A kingdom of YouTube: Saudi Arabia

Think “Saudi Arabia,” and one thing probably comes to mind - oil. But the desert kingdom is also remarkable for another reason - its love of YouTube. In 2013, the average Saudi Internet user watched three times as many videos per day as the average U.S. user. Saudis aren’t just watching: more and more are producing video content and building businesses.

These successful Saudi YouTube content creators recently gathered for a seminar in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. In the course of a day, they compared their experiences, learned how to create viral Arabic language videos and received tips on how to make money with their online shows.

No cinemas exist in Saudi Arabia, explaining part of the online video phenomena. The Internet allows room to tackle issues often avoided by foreign run TV stations - and permits satire in a way unavailable elsewhere in the Kingdom. A recent hit by UTURN spoofed the popular “First Kiss” video, showing various men performing the locally traditional “touching of the nose” embrace in a humorous manner.

“Eish Elly” has won more than two million subscribers and more than 200 million views by discussing, and often poking fun at everyday life in the Kingdom. One show, for example, tackled the issue of child care. As the show’s producer says, “we promote harmony, honesty and halal,” discussing issues that “only a Saudi would understand only something a Saudi would talk about.”

Other YouTube Saudi productions tackle issues previously neglected in the local media. UTURN runs a show called Salemha which teaches English by using clips from popular Hollywood movies. Noon Al Niswa and SenTube focuses health and fitness. Ana wa Heya (Him and Her), pits men against women to debate social issues of Saudi culture. Stretching the boundaries of the possible sometimes provokes surprising reaction, When UTurn put a woman on air for the first time, for example, many viewers responded with curses.

As elsewhere, light entertainment including music and games are popular. Saudi video gaming channels such as D7oomy999, Saudi Gamer and Zpad receive widespread attention not just in the Middle East. Music also can contain a serious message: TELFAZ11’s Alaa Wardi’s “No Women No Drive” song, chanted in an acapella version mixing Arabic and Western musical styles, raised awareness about Saudi women fighting for the right to drive.

The Saudi YouTube phenoma is creating a strong new businesses thanks to our online partnership program. UTURN has garned 14 million subscribers for its shows. It sells advertisements and splits the revenue with YouTube. Additional revenues come from multinationals such as Unilever who sponsoring shows and paying for product placement.

Arabic content on the web represents just three percent of the total digital content online—yet Arabic speakers make up more than 5 percent of the global population. YouTube in Saudi Arabia is helping close this gap—helping local talents get discovered, express their opinions and start their own businesses. In Saudi Arabia, the Internet is moving the country far beyond oil.