YouTube has not only facilitated the creation of online content but it has created a few Internet celebrities. One such example is Hisham Fageeh, a 24-year-old graduate student at Columbia University who is also a stand-up comedian. — SG photo
THE Internet offers countless opportunities and outlets to young Saudis in the midst of the slow movement of change. Whether driven by the lack of activities or movie theaters, youngsters are now producing satirical, sociopolitical and fresh local content on YouTube far away from the often boring and repetitive material found in traditional media. But, what do YouTube shows offer society?
According to recent Google KSA statistics, 44 percent of Saudis use YouTube on a daily basis; divided almost equally between men and women. YouTube users are connected to the Internet via smartphones with 76 percent actively watching videos on their phones and 80 percent of Saudi YouTube users use social media tools at least once a week. Peak time for watching television and YouTube videos in Saudi Arabia is between 8 and 11 P.M.
Also, according to YouTube, Saudi Arabia has the highest per capita YouTube use than any country in the world. With 167 million views a day around the Middle East region, 90 million of these views originate from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia leads the region with the most views followed by Egypt, Morocco and the UAE. The increase in YouTube viewership in the Kingdom could be attributed to the production of local content on the video-sharing website over the past two years.
Anmar Fathaldin, co-founder and manager of UTurn Entertainment, a company that produces YouTube shows, said traditional media (like TV) nowadays doesn’t represent what people want to watch don’t deliver the messages needed. “TV merely pushes material into people’s faces. Saudis have a lot of free time and YouTube videos can be watched anytime and anywhere.
Therefore, we try to ask people what they want to see and what issues they want us to cover,” he said.
Since they started producing YouTube shows in 2010, Fathaldin believes nothing has changed in Saudi society. “It’s too early to claim that we have had an effect on society. I have noticed few minor changes when it comes to entertainment habits. For example, people used to turn to TV to watch programs, now they watch YouTube,” he added.
On a social level, Fathaldin explained the changes they are trying to make are still limited. “I think we have established a certain level of awareness. We do have limitations but we are the ones who determine these limits. We have, however, helped raise the bar for all sorts of media due to the type of issues we address but there are some TV hosts whose bar is already high such as Dawood Al-Shrayyan who presents Eight O’clock program,” Fathaldin explained.
UTurn produces 15 shows with “Eysh Elly” as the most popular one, followed by “Al-Fea’a Al-Fala” and “3al6ayer” in third place. “Takki” is UTurn’s only drama series.
Still in its infancy, Fathaldin believes the phenomenon of YouTube shows in the Kingdom is only starting to grow.
“We are still at baby steps. I think that there are two routes to where this might go. Traditional media says it’s only a bubble, which will eventually die out after few years. Alternatively, in five to ten years, we might replace traditional TV,” he added.
Alaa Yoosef, Managing Director of Telfaz11.tv, an initiative of C3 Films, which stands for Creative Culture Catalysts, created the company to be a catalyst for establishing a culture and an environment where local creativity can thrive.
“With smart devices and faster Internet connections, the young generation is now connected more than ever. We have seen a huge increase in YouTube usage in the last two years. In 2011, YouTube growth in Saudi Arabia was 290 percent,” said Yoosef.
Currently producing 14 shows, five of which are produced by C3 Films, Yoosef said that “La Yekthar” is the most popular one, which started back in October 2010. “YouTube shows hold a huge potential for both content creators and advertisers. Today, more companies’ advertising budgets are being allocated to be spent online. Content creators will be able to better monetize their content and advertisers can get closer to their customers and enjoy the exposure they get from sponsoring and partnering with popular YouTube shows,” Yoosef explained.
There is no doubt that social media sites including Twitter and YouTube are considered revolutionary. They have changed the way many communicate, express themselves and get information. “There are many positive examples of people taking advantage of these revolutionary tools to connect with like-minded people, launch new careers and positive initiatives; our company is one of those examples,” said Yoosef.
YouTube has not only facilitated the creation of online content but it has also created a few Internet celebrities. One such example is Hisham Fageeh, a 24-year-old graduate student at Columbia University who is also a stand-up comedian.
Fageeh started posting videos of his stand-up performances online around mid-2011. He started doing satirical Arabic video blogs toward the end of November 2011 where he played a character he created as an inside joke between him and his younger sister. “It was approaching the final weeks of the semester and I was down after spending so many hours in the library. I would go in from 6 P.M. until 3 or 4 A.M. One night it was too late to call her as it was a school night, so I decided to leave a video on her Facebook wall,” he said.
Fageeh played a normative, conservative, xenophobic, close-minded, bigoted Saudi youth in a cultural exchange with American life. “Video No. 5 is the video that catapulted me into stardom. I recorded the video, uploaded it, went to bed, and woke up to tens of thousands of views,” he said.
A few months ago, Fageeh recorded a skit from New York with La Yekthar, and it received one of the highest number of views for the show. He also appeared in Eysh Elly and “Shift Al-Leel” a TV series aired in Ramadan.
“YouTube has drastically changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It started a career and opened doors for me that I have only dreamed of reaching — it’s truly magic,” he added.