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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Twitter to expand in Mena on growth in video consumption

Saudi Arabia saw 226% rise in video views in 2017, Twitter’s regional head says

Twitter's managing director for the Middle East and North Africa Benjamin Ampen is eyeing expansion of the social media platform in the region, driven by huge growth in video consumption. Reem Mohammed/The National
Twitter's managing director for the Middle East and North Africa Benjamin Ampen is eyeing expansion of the social media platform in the region, driven by huge growth in video consumption. Reem Mohammed/The National

Twitter, the social media networking service, is expanding in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) as it registers significant growth in online video consumption, especially in Saudi Arabia, according to regional managing director Benjamin Ampen.

“Twitter announced [in its first-quarter results] that video is the key contributor to global corporate revenues, and it’s no different in Mena,” Mr Ampen told The National in an interview at the company’s regional headquarters in Dubai. “Clearly, video is really important for our region and it keeps on growing.”

In Saudi Arabia - the biggest market in the region and the only Mena country to feature in Twitter’s list of its top 10 best-performing global markets - the number of video views surged 226 per cent year-on-year in the 12 months to December 2017, Mr Ampen said.

Twitter also recorded a 17 per cent rise in video views on its platform across the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt during Ramadan last year, compared to the holy month in 2016.

Twitter is listed on the New York Stock Exchange but does not provide a regional breakdown for revenues, user base or other barometers of financial performance. Mr Ampen said while Mena accounts for less than 10 per cent of global revenues, it is one of Twitter’s fastest growing regions and the pace of growth is set to continue in 2018. “We are not 'aiming' or 'hoping' for growth in the region – it is happening regardless,” he said.

High smartphone penetration rates, a young and mobile-savvy population, and a huge appetite for video consumption are the key drivers of growth.

Twitter in April posted a 21 per cent year-on-year increase in global revenues to $655 million in the first quarter of 2018 – its second-straight profitable quarter. Monthly active users rose to 336 million from 334.2 million in the year-earlier period, while Twitter’s earnings per share stood at 16 cents, beating analysts’ expectations.

“When we said that globally we saw 21 per cent annual growth on average across our regions, Mena is one of our fastest growing regions, so that gives you an idea of the growth we’re experiencing here,” Mr Ampen said.

“[Q1] was also the eighth consecutive quarter of daily active user growth globally - 10 per cent year-on-year on average, so that again gives you an idea [of the Mena figure],” he added. Other than Saudi Arabia and the UAE, he sees particular opportunities in Kuwait, which, while a small market by population size, has a high Twitter penetration rate although he wouldn’t disclose figures, and in Egypt, which has lower penetration rates but a sizeable population.

“The effort and initiatives we need to push in Egypt are different to the ones in Saudi, where basically Twitter has become a utility,” Mr Ampen said. “This is a region where we need to choose our battles, and the battles are different depending on the country.”

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Twitter opened its Dubai office in 2015 to service the GCC, Levant and North Africa, and two months ago moved into bigger offices to accommodate its growth. It has around 20 employees at present.

In 2017, the company began seeking stronger partnerships with media outlets in the Middle East as part of a global strategy to increase advertising revenue by offering more live video. It has forged tie-ups with Bloomberg, which launched its TicToc Twitter feed last December, and others.

It aims to grow its corporate partnerships across all sectors to drive further growth in video. Companies can place a range of video marketing content on Twitter, including promotional advertising, direct response e-commerce campaigns and "live moments" (building sponsored channels or chat programmes to engage viewers).

This month, Twitter will launch the region’s first live sports show, #YallaGoal, in partnership with football website Goal, which will produce football-related discussions, entertainment, celebrity news and other editorial insight for Twitter during the 2018 Fifa World Cup.

Initial sponsors include soft drinks manufacturer Rani, Unilever’s Axe, Rexona, Clear and Lipton brands, and luxury car retailer Infiniti, but Mr Ampen said he hoped to grow the sponsor list as the project continues.

He said the privacy battle taking place around Facebook and other social media firms does not involve Twitter, which, by its nature, is a public platform where content is visible to everyone at the will and acknowledgement of its users.

However, like Facebook, Twitter has taken steps to regulate the “quality” of information spread via Twitter, including clamping down on suspected terrorist activity. Based on Twitter's latest Transparency Report on April 5, 2018, the platform has suspended over 1.2 million accounts for terrorist content since August 2015.

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