‘Uniquely Captive Audience’

Matt Smith reports for Reuters:

The restrictions on Saudi society, where morality police patrol public spaces to enforce approved modes of behavior, has created a uniquely captive audience for web-based news and entertainment, media experts say.

With a population of 28.3 million, Saudi Arabia is now the biggest user of YouTube per capita in the world, and according to analysts Semiocast was the eighth most active country on Twitter as of April, accounting for 2.33 percent of all tweets.

Seinfeld of Saudi Arabia

Abu Dhabi-based the National profiles comedian Fahad al-Butairi, a Saudi YouTube star:

A show that pokes fun at the inner mechanisms of a country considered to be the most conservative in the region – if not the world – might be considered ripe for censorship.

But although Albutairi admits they’ve had to occasionally reach out to lawyers for consultation, he says the show has so far been untouched by censorship. “People think that, because we talk about certain political or socio-political issues, we’ve got into trouble with the government. But, no, they’ve been encouraging, for some reason.”

Saudi Youth Idle No More

Sabria S. Jawhar says the perception that “Saudi youths are idle, humorless and disengaged from the political and societal movements” was probably true for previous generations, but it is not the case for the new generation. You can see that, she says, in the many YouTube comedy shows produced by young Saudis over the past two years:

More important than simply entertainment, the Saudi government can learn a great deal about what young people think, especially as ministries prepare to introduce new regulations that affect society in general or more specific issues like employment. Their comedic commentaries are a constructive way to express disappointment without being confrontational.

Saudi Internet Café Charges Customers to Create a Twitter Account

An Internet café in Saudi Arabia is charging money to create Twitter and Facebook accounts for its customers, the local al-Sharq daily reported. According to the newspaper, owners of the Internet café in the city of Gonfotha, western Saudi Arabia, offer to help computer illiterate customers create accounts on social media sites in return for what is described as a “symbolic fee.” The cost for creating a Facebook account SR 10, and creating a Twitter account would cost SR 20. As for creating an account on video sharing site YouTube, that would be SR 30 per user. One US dollar equals SR 3.75.

Use of social media sites in Saudi Arabia has exploded over the past two years. Recent numbers show there are more than 6 million Facebook users in the country, according to numbers released by The Social Clinic, a consultancy firm based in Jeddah. Twitter has become one of the most active platform for public debate in Saudi Arabia, with more than 3 million users posting more than 50 million tweets per month. Saudi citizens are also leading the consumption of online video in the Middle East, with users from Saudi Arabia accounting for 190 million views out of the 240 million daily YouTube views in the region.

Illustration courtesy of Esther Vargas on Flickr.

Saudi Arabia, YouTube Nation

About eighty percent of the daily views of YouTube videos in the Middle East come from Saudi Arabia, marking an increase of 109 percent in consumption rate since last year, said Google’s Head of Emerging Arabia Abdulrahman Tarabzouni in Riyadh yesterday according to the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat daily. Saudi users account for 190 million views out of the 240 million daily YouTube views in the region, he said. Tarabzouni, who was speaking during the ArabNet conference, added that Saudis produce 34 percent of the content uploaded to YouTube and that they are responsible for 25 percent of searches on Google in the Middle East.