Skip to Main Content
A stylised image of a collection of screens showing different media images and videos.

Digital transformation has enabled a more vibrant media landscape in MEA

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed how audiences consume content and how media companies think about the creation, distribution and monetisation of this content. A unique example of this is how many concerts went from in-person experiences to being live streamed straight into our living rooms. For the likes of the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra, the closure of theatres didn’t stop the musicians from doing what they love. Using Azure, Borusan was able to record high-quality concerts for its audiences to watch on demand from the safety and comfort of their homes.

Almost two years later and we’re starting to see audiences return to in-person events as well as streaming their favourite artists from home. In November, Alicia Keys put on a hybrid concert at Expo 2020 Dubai where people could attend in person at Al Wasl Plaza or log on and watch the performance online from anywhere in the world.

While the pandemic has influenced some of these new trends, it also accelerated existing ones. Traditional outlets for content such as newspapers and magazines have been on the decline for decades, while cinemas were starting to see a decrease in audience numbers because of a shrinking theatrical window and increasing competition from streaming services.

In response, PwC recommends that in order for media businesses to stay competitive, they need to rethink their business models to respond to consumer behaviour and tailor experiences that include personalised content. It’s no longer enough to rely on advertising. Organisations must consider new ways of production, distribution and monetisation to draw in audiences and keep them.

In addition, Publicis Sapient recommends media companies adopt a streaming first mindset, benefitting from new revenue streams if content catalogues are correctly monetised. The use of innovations such as shared streaming and “deeper personalisation” can do a lot to keep subscribers engaged and coming back for more.

We are witnessing a major shift in the media and entertainment landscape. The pandemic triggered a period of high-paced digital transformation that has only resulted in a more dynamic and vibrant industry.

Content is king

Bill Gates penned an essay in 1996 titled “Content is King” which mentioned how anyone with a computer and modem could create and publish whatever they wanted. Today, we have those same tools to create content, but they look slightly different. Mobile smart devices have made it easier for anyone to be a creator, while the internet has become faster than ever before with the likes of fibre and 5G roll outs. As a result, we’ve seen the rise of the creator economy where its estimated that 50 million creators exist around the world, each building their own audiences.

As remote work took hold in early 2020, consumers needed reliable devices and internet connectivity, and content creators needed sufficient bandwidth to continue satisfying their content-hungry subscribers. This helped to accelerate investments in full fibre networks and 5G. According to Omdia, digital subscriber line (DSL) subscriptions grew by 23 percent during the first year of the pandemic in Egypt. As for 5G, Omdia predicts Saudi Arabia’s 5G networks to continue to increase with almost 40 percent of the country having access.

Thanks to this ease of access, we’ve seen the consumption of digital content increase exponentially. Audiences are watching more videos, listening to more podcasts and reading more news online. There has also been a rise in paid-for content with many users demonstrating that they are willing to pay for news subscriptions or streaming services. In the case of Microsoft customer Media24, the company launched a new subscription-based model in August 2020 for its brand, News24. Within two months, the site had 20,000 monthly subscribers. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen more online publications introduce paywalls including Gulf News and Arabian Business to diversify their income streams beyond the traditional advertising revenue model.

Cloud is the great enabler

There is, of course, one tool that is proving to be as vital to the transformation of the media industry as the PC and modem were all those years ago. In recent years, the cloud has become a key enabler of creation, distribution and monetisation for media companies, while also acting as a catalyst for innovative solutions during a challenging and unpredictable two years.

The Economist, in partnership with Microsoft, conducted a survey of the media and communications industry for its report The Transformation Imperative. According to the report, cloud computing comes out on top because of its role in creating strong foundations for transformation and scalability to distribute “huge volumes of rich content to vast audiences”.

One example of this is data journalism project Animal Politico. The media company is using tools such as Power BI Pro to analyse and visualise data in new ways for its six million monthly readers. The interactive visualisations have resulted in more in-depth storytelling on important social issues and as a result have created greater engagement and awareness. Animal Politico has been able to tap into the growing success of data visualization in conveying information quickly and effectively with the help of solutions like Power BI Pro.

Following an explosion in video content in recent years, streaming services such as Netflix, SHAHID and Starzplay are now predicted to grow at an accelerated pace until 2024. This of course would not be possible without cloud solutions.

For SHAHID, a subscription based VOD service from leading Middle East media company MBC Group, the move to the cloud has been a significant chapter in its transformation journey. Using Microsoft Azure has helped deliver a seamless experience to SHAHID viewers by reducing click-to-play time to two seconds despite the increase in traffic on the platform. According to Johannes Larcher, Managing Director of SHAHID, Azure helped the streaming service reduce its costs and improve inefficiencies around content delivery and workflow automation. This has freed up time for the company to focus less on video infrastructure and more on innovating its offering to customers.

More time for innovation

Cloud has the potential to automate routine processes, manage storage as well as provide flexibility, security and scalability. This cannot come at a more crucial point for the media industry. By freeing up time for more complex problem solving, media mavens are able to innovate their offering to keep their viewers and readers engaged. It’s digital transformation tools like the cloud that will play a key role in the fight for attention.