x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Yahoo chief plans Arabic boost

Yahoo is sinking more money into its Arabic content across the Middle East after finding success with rising demand, says Carol Bartz.

Carol Bartz, the global chief executive of Yahoo, says the Middle East is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. Satish Kumar / The National
Carol Bartz, the global chief executive of Yahoo, says the Middle East is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. Satish Kumar / The National

Yahoo is sharply increasing its investment in Arabic content across the Middle East after the uprisings in the region brought 3 million new users to its site in Egypt alone.

The US digital media company is launching a regional website for mobiles next Tuesday and also plans subsequently to release an app for iPads, which will be pegged to Ramadan and offer lifestyle and religious stories as well as video clips.

"We see a huge opportunity in the growth of the web in the Middle East and North Africa," Carol Bartz, the global chief executive of Yahoo, said in Dubai yesterday. "Arabic is one of the fastest-growing languages on the internet. Yet only 1 per cent of online content is in Arabic today. Clearly there's huge growth potential here."

Demand for online content in Arabic has been on the rise. Between January and March, 3 million new users flocked to Yahoo's news site in Egypt, in part to track information about the unrest there.

A recent report from the Dubai School of Government also found that at least half of Facebook users in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen, and in the Palestinian Territories, preferred to function on the internet in Arabic rather than English.

But Yahoo sees wider potential for growth: some 70 million people in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) are already online, and 50 million more are expected to join them within three years.

"That makes it one of the fastest-growing markets in the world," said Ms Bartz.

The company's new website designed for the small screens of mobile phones will be similar to Yahoo Maktoob, which aggregates news, entertainment and sports information in English and Arabic, but with a regional focus. The site will also feature locally produced stories as well as videos pooled from major Arabic satellite channels. Both of these elements of the service will grow in the future, company executives said.

In just 18 months, the number of visitors to Yahoo Maktoob has grown by 60 per cent, to some 50 million. It is now the third-most visited Yahoo home page in the world, preceded only by landing pages in the US and Taiwan. Two months ago it was only the fifth-largest home page. "That's how fast it's come on," Ms Bartz said.

Yahoo is hoping that online advertisements will become big business in the region. Online spending in the Mena region accounts for only 2 per cent of the total that companies devote to advertising. That compares with more than 10 per cent in the US, 15 per cent in France and about 25 per cent in the UK, said Ms Bartz. "This region is host to the fastest-growing ad markets in the world," she added.

Ms Bartz says the company is investing in this region to tap into the digital spending market, which is growing at a rate of between 25 and 30 per cent a year. Since Yahoo acquired the regional web portal Maktoob.com at the end of 2009, for US$164 million (Dh602.3m), it has more than doubled its staff in the Mena region to nearly 300 employees. Last month, the company also extended its operational reach beyond cities such as Dubai, Riyadh, Amman and Cairo by opening an office in Casablanca to serve the growing digital advertising industry in North Africa.

"We are investing here and looking forward to investing even more," Ms Bartz said.

Yahoo's strategy was to connect visitors using content rather than social networks, she said.

"We really believe that content has to be interactive, so it has a social variety to it [and] so you can comment on news you're reading or can vote and do predictions," said Ms Bartz.

nparmar@thenational.ae