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Abu Dhabi Media Summit Puts Spotlight on 'Arab Digital Generation'

Abu Dhabi Skyline

A survey found that 83 percent of young Arabs use the Internet daily.

Just like young people in other parts of the world, millenials in the Persian Gulf region are increasingly consuming media and entertainment in digital form, providing new opportunities for content companies to serve them, experts said here at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

Consulting firm Booz & Co. in a report presented at the summit discussed the emergence of the digital natives in the region, or what it calls the "Arab Digital Generation."

It said that "a new generation is emerging in the Middle East and North Africa region. Born between 1977 and 1997, this demographic is 40 percent of the MENA population. A growing number of them are extremely active online and in social networks.". Importantly, for advertisers, the ADG also has "significant buying potential," it said.

In partnership with Google, the firm surveyed more than 3,000 digital users in nine countries.

It found that 83 percent of people in the demographic use the Internet daily, and 40 percent use it for at least five hours a day, with 78 percent saying they prefer the Internet to TV. The survey also shows that 61 percent spend more than two hours per day on social networking sites,
41 percent search the Internet in both Arabic and English, and 21 percent chat in both languages.

But they also look for better web offers and more freedom, the study shows. Booz said that 48 percent of members of the ADG are not satisfied with the quality of local web sites, and 47 percent are not satisfied with local versions of international sites, while 37 percent are unsatisfied with the availability of Arabic sites. And 24 percent expressed the belief that "media content is totally controlled" by the government.

"Although technology is also affecting other young people around the globe, the Arab world is more susceptible to widespread change, due to demographics and the region’s strong behavioral norms," the Booz study concluded. "The survey results show the impact of technology on society. The ADG is developing its own, less traditional ideas about family, religion and marriage," and it expects more transparent government.

Geoff Ramsey, CEO of research firm eMarketer, also presented a new forecast Wednesday that included data about digital media in the Middle East and Africa region.

It will see Internet user penetration rise to 21 percent by 2016, with the Gulf region ahead of many African countries, he said. While that will remain far behind North America's penetration of currently 70 percent, that provides further room for upside, he said.

Similarly, smartphone penetration will rise from 13 percent currently to 29 percent in 2016, "pretty much reaching critical mass," Ramsey said.

Around the world, about 1.4 billion people are on social networks now. In the Middle East and Africa, reach stands at 11 percent of the total population due to the low Internet penetration in Africa, below the average in other regions, according to eMarketer. But 70 percent of the region's Internet users are on social networks, ahead of the global average of 62 percent, Ramsey highlighted.

All this growth means that advertising spending, a majority of which currently goes towards newspapers in the Gulf region, will increasingly shift to digital media, he predicted. Things "will change rapidly," he said.

With just $4 per web user being spent on digital advertising in the Middle East and Africa region currently, there is "much room for growth, Ramsey concluded.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai