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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Facebook expands MENA user base by 20%, opens new regional HQ

Technology giant says working to develop Messenger for Business and roll out Watch video service 

Jonathan Labin, the managing director for Mena at Facebook. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Jonathan Labin, the managing director for Mena at Facebook. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Facebook grew its Middle East and North Africa (Mena) user base by 20 per cent year-on-year between July 2016 and July 2017, and plans further expansion as it seeks to tap the region’s high usage of video and mobile services.

As of July 2017, there were 164 million monthly active users in the region, said Mena managing director Jonathan Labin – up from 136 million in July 2016.

Facebook had 114 million monthly active users in 2015, Mr Labin added. He declined to give growth forecasts for the year ahead.

Meanwhile, the total number of active users in the region has grown by 264 per cent from 45 million in the five years since Facebook Mena launched in 2012, the company said this week. Globally, there are about 2.1 billion active users.

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Mr Labin said there was “room for further growth in the region”, based on high demand for video and mobile services among Mena users. “We are very excited about the region; we are investing in the region and we see huge growth potential,” he said.

On Thursday, Facebook marked the opening of a new headquarters for the region in Dubai Knowledge Village, with an expanded capacity of about 150 staff compared to around 40 in the previous office, which was also in Dubai.

Facebook’s revenue growth has been slower this year than last amid a challenging time for the global advertising industry. The US technology firm’s overall revenue growth was 44.7 per cent year-over-year in the second quarter of 2017, its latest results showed, compared to 59 per cent a year earlier.

However, Mr Labin said demand for digital advertising in Mena remained strong. He noted that mobile and video services in particular were “over-indexing” global performance thanks to higher than average regional penetration rates.

“It was not an easy time for advertising in the region but that’s not the case for digital advertising, or for Facebook itself,” Mr Labin said.

“It’s not just that it’s a [relatively] new medium, it’s that companies big and small see value in advertising with us.”

He said mobile now accounted for 87 per cent of global advertising revenue for Facebook in the second quarter, or US$8 billion, compared to 85 per cent in the preceding quarter and 84 per cent a year ago.

Total group advertising revenue was $9.16bn in the second quarter, but Facebook does not report regional figures. Mr ­Labin said his priorities for the next two years were to continue to develop Messenger for Business in Mena – enabling regional businesses to communicate with customers via Facebook’s Messenger app.

Thousands of Mena businesses have already used this service, he said, including Mercedes-Benz, which has permitted customers to book test drives or inquire about new car models via the app.

Mr Labin also said Facebook intends to “move fast” on rolling out immersive video service “Watch” in the region, following trials in the US.

Watch is a new platform for viewing TV shows via Facebook. Its roster includes live and recorded shows and events where viewers can interact directly with the cast.

Announcing the Mena headquarters opening, Mr Labin said: “This region has embarked on a path of growth and transformation and we aim to be part of it.

“Across Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Lebanon and many more countries in the region we are seeing users, content creators and brands use Facebook in new ways, unlike anywhere in the world.

“We are only 1 per cent finished in our journey here.”

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