A modern sector for information and communication technologies is integral to today’s advanced industrial activities.
Saudi Vision 2030 aims to transform Saudi Arabia into a globally competitive ICT hub, with modern technologies and an empowered information society.
The ambition envisages many investment themes, including the development of the digital content and media, the expansion of the telecommunication system, the digitization of the country, and the creation of new high-tech and smart industries.
The government is working alongside the private sector to modernize the ICT infrastructure, enhancing the regulatory framework to enable new innovative investments, and building the most suitable ecosystem to support entrepreneurs and digital talents.
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A digital content media revolution is underway in KSA. Young Saudis who dominate demographics watch more online videos per capita than any other nation. Their appetite for digital media is huge, yet most of the content consumed is produced outside the Kingdom. Several opportunities in this market reveal an industry that has hardly begun to take shape. Demand for Arabic media content is beginning to influence positive developments that include the opening up of production facilities and distribution channels to support the commercialization of this sector. Several government initiatives seek to change the way Saudis approach digital content and media by encouraging localized content creation and creativity. Ongoing efforts are being made to address gaps in the value chain, grow local talent and establish new niche industries that form a basis for Saudi Entertainment culture. This is truly an exciting time to become involved in this industry as it is on the cusp of experiencing unprecedented development and growth.
With half of the Saudi population under the age of 30, the majority of inhabitants consider themselves to be digital natives. Saudis have embraced advancements in media technologies that have transformed the way they consume information. Recent studies analyzing the Kingdom’s usage of digital content media confirm that Saudis have the highest rate of daily video consumption in the world, with over 50% of inhabitants watching online videos through their smartphones. This puts Saudis ahead of Turkey, the UAE and even the USA.
Furthermore, KSA ranks 7th globally in terms of accounts on social media, with an average of 7 accounts (3 active) per individual. Saudi Arabia also ranks 14th globally in terms of active social network penetration, which translates to 59% of the population and is significantly above the global average.
Saudis clearly have an appetite for digital media, and this presents a lucrative opportunity local and international digital media companies.
Saudis evidently have a passion for digital media content but are generally limited to watching Arabic content that is developed in Egypt or to content based in foreign languages. Arabic is the 5th most spoken language in the world and 4.8% of internet users globally are Arabic speakers, yet only 0.8% of media content is in Arabic.
Despite high demand for Arabic media content, narrow coverage of the media value chain results in limited content being developed both online and offline. Local content development and production is growing, but KSA has few professional production facilities and underdeveloped channels to distribute and commercialize this content. This market suffers from significant gaps that prevent it from fulfilling its untapped potential. There is enormous scope for growth in this sector amid positive signs that the gaps in the value chain are beginning to be addressed.
In 2017, Media City was established to act as a catalyst for the digital media sector and to start filling the gaps in the value chain. Several initiatives are beginning to take effect, including vocational courses aligned with market needs, grants being made available to local talent, the development of high speed and capacity internet facilities, the opening of high quality studios and equipment facilities as well as event spaces being reserved to create community and cohesion. The MiSK Foundation has established a series of initiatives to stimulate the media ecosystem, which include Tweeps, Shoof, Kammel, Awalmna, & TEDx kids. These initiatives are primarily aimed at Saudi youth to increase knowledge, share ideas, raise awareness and unite aspiring entrepreneurs. Awalmna is an independent media project that aims to highlight creativity and hone the talents of the youth. TEDx kids is introducing young talents to larger audiences and providing a stage for their thoughts and experiences to be shared.
Several initiatives have been commissioned to enhance the media experience of KSA residents. Hajj & Umrah productions have embarked on an exciting new project to use Virtual and Augmented reality technologies to showcase the Hajj & Umrah experience for over 1.8b Muslims globally. Saudi Arabia’s first cinemas are also scheduled to open their doors in March 2018, with live performance shows also in the pipeline. The Game Hub initiative has been set-up to incubate talent and showcase mobile, consul and interactive gaming content. The Female Gamer and Game Developer Conference is a community driven and organized event that’s in its 5th year, drawing thousands of attendees and industry leading sponsors. Furthermore, the first Saudi Comic Con has attracted over 20,000 fans and is sponsored by the General Entertainment Authority.
Changes are slowly but surely taking place to fulfil the needs of this rapidly growing sector.
KSA intends to utilize its growing talent pool with the aim of expanding the digital content marketplace. Platforms like YouTube have already been exploited by budding Saudi entrepreneurs, with the top 10 KSA channels exceeding 2 million subscribers each. Saudi government initiatives are being established to support local content development for the local and regional market. Gaming leads the way with recent agreements to support game development, publishing and distribution. A video game hardware and software company has been established as well as an animation studio to train young Saudis on animation and to develop Saudi animation content.
Further initiatives are inevitable as Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture continues to implement the cultural and entertainment goals set out by Vision 2030.
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