Research in the Middle East reveals discerning and engaged news consumers demanding trustworthy, high-quality content

May 20, 2014 2:59 pm

A new research study commissioned by The Associated Press reveals for the first time the state of the news market in the Middle East, and suggests ways it may evolve.

The study was launched in a press briefing held on the sidelines of the 13th Arab Media
Forum, in cooperation with Dubai Press Club.

The study, based on a survey of 18 to 45-year-olds in United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, shows a strong regional appetite for high-quality content in different formats, and a clear desire to see the news from a number of different perspectives. The findings highlight a significant opportunity for news providers in a thriving market where 97 percent of consumers regularly discuss news and current affairs in their daily lives.

The study, produced by Deloitte, shows that Middle East audiences are avid consumers of news, with an average daily consumption of 72 minutes per day – higher than their counterparts in the U.K. and Germany. They are also highly discerning in the way they find and consume news, with almost a third of respondents identifying trust as paramount when choosing a news provider. Quality is also key: While the study identifies a preference for locally produced content, more than half of those surveyed believed that international TV content is a better source of news because of better quality video clips. 63 percent said they would actually watch more news if the quality improved.

The opportunity around video content for broadcasters is opened up further by the fact that 75 percent of respondents are more likely to access news stories that include video, rather than just text or images, and that video consumers have the highest overall dwell time on news content per day. For more than three-quarters (83 percent) of Middle East consumers of online news, video clips also improve their overall understanding of content.

The findings also identified key regional insights into the rising importance of social media channels in changing consumers’ online behavior. Consumers of online news are increasingly using social sites as a gateway to online news sites, with 59 percent discovering the majority of news in this way. 70 percent of respondents use social media for news more today than they did last year.

When it comes to the actual content, the research shows that a broad mix of stories resonates with audiences. International news is important, with political news stories remaining the most commonly accessed (by 80 percent of respondents). Lighthearted stories are also popular, but most significant for broadcasters, is the demand for increased coverage of regionally focused stories, with 63 percent of consumers expressing a desire for more stories that particularly concern the Middle East. Demand to access regional content in addition to, rather than instead of, international news indicates the region is a particularly engaged consumer of news.

“This research has discovered some important trends in the region’s news consumption habits, and particularly when it comes to video and the use of social media channels,” said Ian Phillips, Middle East director of news for AP. “The demand for better quality video clips, as well as more regional news, presents a number of opportunities, while the increased use of social media channels suggests the need for new and innovative strategies for online news sites to ensure they can still drive audiences back to their own sites.”

Alwyn Lindsey, AP’s director of sales for the Middle East and North Africa, added: “The Middle East is a significant market for us and one that offers enormous potential. The findings support our recent initiative to expand our video content services in the region in order to offer more regionally focused video news to complement our international coverage.”

Key Middle East Research Highlights
• Consumers in the Middle East are avid consumers of news
• 57% of consumers access news daily in the Middle East, and 95% use news as a source of social conversation – whether with friends, work colleagues or online
• On average, consumers access 72 minutes of content a day – more than the UK and Germany (63 mins each), and Japan (65 mins)

• A broad range of content resonates strongly with audiences – more than is currently on offer
• Politics remains the most popular news topic, with 80% of consumers interested in this type of content
• However, more broadly, less serious topics are also in demand by consumers – 80% are interested in technology, 72% in entertainment stories
• There is also demand for more content which focuses on positive stories about the Middle East – 63% of consumers would like to see more of that
• Today, international sources are considered to be the best providers of content, however 51% of consumer would prefer if they could watch news produced in country

• They are discerning and sophisticated in how they discover and consume news
• High penetration of a range of different sources for accessing news suggests consumers are willing to search around for the right content (e.g. 50% use news sites, 50% use friends social network updates, 46% use national TV)
• When choosing a provider, trust (27% of consumers) and quality of the content (23% of consumers) are the most important criteria
• Video is a key way to attract and retain audiences
• 68% of consumers regularly watch video news online – and those who do watch such content typically consume 18 minutes more content per day than those who don’t
• 75% of consumers said that availability of video news made them more likely to consume content compared with just text or just sound
• There is opportunity to improve the quality and range of video content available – today, international TV is considered to be the provider, despite preference for local production

• Sharing and social behaviours are also changing the way consumer behaviours, which providers have an opportunity to take advantage of
• Use of social channels is already strong as a source of discovering news content – and this is growing; 59% of consumers believe that most of the news they consume online comes via social channels
• This is in part due to strong sharing behaviours ; 68% of consumers regularly share news content through their social networks
• However, those who discover news through social channels tend to move to dedicated news sites to find out more about a story, representing an opportunity for providers to become the go-to destination for online news traffic

Key UAE Highlights
• UAE consumers are most likely to consume the news on a daily basis
• Despite international TV news being the most commonly accessed type of news, provision of news stories from the UAE is the most important aspect when choosing a news provider
• On average, consumers access 66 minutes of news per day

• UAE consumers place the greatest emphasis on international news stories and providers
• 59% of consumers consume international news stories online, and 54% on TV

• Perception that the quality of news is increasing, which is felt more strongly than in Egypt and KSA
• 62% believe the range of news stories is improving
• 56% believe that fairness is improving
• 61% believe the level of accuracy is improving
• UAE residents are the least likely to believe that the tone of the news they read, see or hear is usually negative with 36% having this perception

• Sharing news stories on social networks is the most frequently used news feature by UAE consumers
• 73% agree that use of social media to access the news is increasing
• Consumers mainly use social media sites to find out what news is important to other people
• They are most likely to talk or post comments about sports news
• When reading blogs, there is a far higher level of trust from men (40%) than women (20%)

• Watching video clips is the least frequently used feature by UAE consumers
• However, 78% state they are more likely to access news stories with video than with just text or sound, and 81% believe that video clips improve their understanding of the news
• They believe that the websites of news organisations provide the best access to video content.