YouTube, the video-streaming website owned by Google, says it has "woken up" to the potential of the Middle East after Arab Spring revolutionaries and Syrian opposition fighters used the service to further their cause.
"There is tremendous consumer demand and we need to pay a lot more attention to the region," said Robert Kyncl, the head of global content for YouTube.
The website made headlines across the world during the Arab Spring as it became a platform for protesters to post videos showing what was happening on the ground. Most recently, its CitizenTube channel has become a port of call for anyone looking to find out the impact of the bombings and shelling in Syria.
"What YouTube does is it democratises the distribution of video around the world. We see that as our role, as a great equaliser. We are starting to see more benefits of user-generated content because it brings a voice to people around the world," said Mr Kyncl.
Every minute, an hour of YouTube video content is uploaded in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. Over 2010 and last year, video uploads in Tunisia jumped 420 per cent as the country found itself in the middle of a revolution. Uploads from Saudi Arabia increased 260 per cent while there was a 150 per cent rise in Egypt. Currently about 167 million videos are viewed every day on YouTube across Mena.
Saudi Arabians watch the most, with 90 million video views every day, the highest number of views in the world per internet user, followed by Egypt, Morocco and the UAE. The company is hiring staff locally to focus on growth for its content and advertising "so that it is more localised".
"Today, Mena represents 5 per cent of all of YouTube's consumption, but only 1 per cent of content is in Arabic so it makes all the sense to stimulate the market," said Mr Kyncl.
Mena is YouTube's fastest- growing region and Mr Kyncl expects the 5 per cent level of consumption to increase to 10 per cent within a few years.
To bridge the gap between consumption and Arabic content, YouTube has partnered with local media outlets to establish channels on its website. It currently hosts 10 of these partner channels including MBC, Al Jazeera, Rotana and Melody Music, but Mr Kyncl is keen to build this further.
Focus will also be placed on the mobile and tablet platforms. Across the region, the main access channel for YouTube videos is the desktop computer. This, however, is not the case in Saudi Arabia, where half of all the videos watched on the website are on mobile phones, again the highest in the world. Worldwide mobile consumption of YouTube videos has jumped from 6 per cent to 25 per cent in the past 18 months.
This trend is also expected to take place across Mena. "The main way to access YouTube will be on mobiles because the refresh cycle of devices is fastest with mobile phones," said Mr Kyncl.
Online advertising is also an area for growth. Currently the entire media spending on advertising across the Mena region is about US$6.5 billion (Dh23.87bn), but just $200 million of that is spent on online advertising.
"The general rule is that everyone follows consumer demand and advertisers are growing. We are trying to fuel it, so this means more investment in infrastructure to drive growth," added Mr Kyncl.