At Abu Dhabi: Arabic Streaming Platforms Adapt to Evolving Consumer Behavior

In News by Hannah Johnson

Media specialists discuss the impact of Arabic streaming platforms at the 2024 International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries.

‘Evolving Consumer Tastes and Consumption in the Era of Multi-Platform Content Creation’ at the 2024 ‘Congress PCI.’ From left are moderator Zeina Soufan, senior business news anchor with ‘Asharq Business with Bloomberg’; Mazen Hayek, media consultant and former spokesperson and PR group director with MBC Group; Ashley Rite, vice-president of marketing and growth at OSN; and Maaz Sheikh, co-founder and CEO of StarzPlay. Image: Congress PCI

By Hannah Johnson | @HannahSJohnson

‘It’s Time for Us To Value Intellectual Property Rights’
A panel of media specialists convened in Abu Dhabi at this year’s International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries (Congress PCI) to discuss the impact of streaming platforms and diverse audiences on Arabic content creation, and how these platforms are experimenting with formats to meet changing consumer preferences across the Arab world.

Titled Evolving Consumer Tastes and Consumption in the Era of Multi-Platform Content Creation, the session was part of the congress’ programming meant to highlight issues and observations from across media segments including film, games, and books.

The panelists agreed that changing consumer behavior and fragmented audiences make it increasingly difficult to develop content that resonates across diverse audiences—both within the multifaceted Arab world and internationally.

“Each consumer segment by age, interests, and demographics has increased fragmentation,” said Mazen Hayek, a media consultant and former spokesperson for the MBC Group, a media company in the Middle East and North Africa. “Younger audiences prefer shorter content, while we also have a big audience for long-form content.”

Maaz Sheikh, co-founder and CEO of StarzPlay, noted the complexity of consumer tastes even within regions like the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. “As much as service providers like to simplify,” he said, “inside these regions, consumer behavior is complex. We have to create a distinct proposition for each segment.”

The rise of multi-platform, on-demand viewing was a central topic. Ashley Rite, vice-president of marketing and growth at OSN, said the Middle East and North Africa region lags by three to four years behind markets like the United States in this transformation to streaming.

However, she said, Arabic streaming platforms are growing. “TV is not the first port of call when people go home,” she said.

Content length, said Rite, is also an area in which creators and streaming platforms are experimenting. It’s not just a matter of short- versus long-form content. Rite pointed out that while some consumers “won’t watch a full episode” of a television show, they “will watch three hours of Twitch,” a live-streaming platform for video games and other content.

Sheikh said shorter content like StarzPlay’s first original series Kaboos—with five episodes of 20 minutes rather than a traditional format of 30 to 45 minutes—has found success by aligning with changing viewer habits. However, he said, platforms must also evolve with more interactivity: “Being a passive consumption platform is not viable in the long run.”

Technological advances like AI personalization and language translation are seen by some as critical tools to help Arabic content reach broader audiences.

“Technologically speaking,” we have overcome multilingualism,” said Hayek. “You can produce Arabic content and translate it into 50 languages instantly. This might make it easier to export content more easily.”

Still, challenges remain around production costs, rights ownership, and funding sources. Hayek lamented that $4.5 billion goes to “non-local companies” due to the region’s low per capita media investment.

Sheikh recounted STARZPLAY’s journey raising capital, having to first looking outside the MENA region while the local funding environment was still evolving. “Media is a capital-intensive business, and you need a critical mass of content to compete,” he said. However, Sheikh added, the funding landscape in UAE and MENA has changed. “There are more VCs and investors.”

Looking ahead, the MBC Group’s Hayek urged prioritizing intellectual property rights as a way to strengthen local media.

“It’s time for us to value IP and intellectual property rights,” he said. “When this becomes valuable, we’ll get investors.”

Concluding the discussion, Sheikh revisited a point that other speakers at the Congress PCI also noted: the need for more Arabic content. We need to “bring [younger audiences] back to Arabic content and Arabic media,” he said. “That can only be done with the right content that speaks to them.”

More About Congress PCI

Attendees at the 2024 International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries. Image: Congress PCI

Now in its third year, the International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries is organized by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre and takes place the day before the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair opens. Organizers say they intend to continue expanding this conference event into “a knowledge-sharing hub for regional and global publishing and creative content developers in the Arab market.”

In addition to a full day of professional discussions, the program includes workshops and masterclasses for creative professionals and students, as well as an exhibition of technology and creative companies working in the Arab world and internationally.

Follow Publishing Perspectives for more coverage of this year’s Congress PCI.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Abu Dhabi International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries is here, more on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, more on the United Arab Emirates’ market is here, more from us on book fairs and trade shows in world publishing is here, more on the creative industries is here, and more on Arabic in the publishing world is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, another program produced by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre.

About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.