Eastern promises

Video-sharing website YouTube is turning its sights on the Middle East, launching eight local homepages in the region in the last year. But will it be enough to turn its fortunes around?
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“You can write 1,000 words but you put up a 30-second video and it tells so much more; it’s so much more engaging,” says Matthew Glotzbach.

As the managing director at YouTube for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Glotzbach is employed to encourage greater use of the California-based video-sharing website. But the tremendous growth of the site since its inception just seven years ago is testament to the fact that it — along with the millions of videos that are uploaded by users across the world — has changed the way people consume their media and watch videos.

Today, as much as 60 hours of video are uploaded onto YouTube’s platform every minute while more than three billion hours of video are watched every month. The Middle East and North Africa is YouTube’s second-largest market after the US with 167 million views per day.

With figures as high as that, it is little wonder that the Google-owned website is turning its attention to the region, launching eight localised homepages in the Middle East in the last year alone.

“It’s always been the plan [to launch local homepages in the region] but I think the events of the Arab Spring have helped crystallise in everyone’s mind — advertisers, partners and Google users — the importance of having a local presence,” Glotzbach tells CEO Middle East at the official launch of its UAE homepage.

“I think there is massive potential for the business of YouTube here,” he continues. “It really is an eco-system where the viewers, as they find more and more local content, will help motivate local content creators to get onto the platform. As there is more content and more viewers, that will allow advertisers to reach that audience on the platform, so it’s a virtuous cycle.”

Social networks such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have become increasingly popular during the Arab Spring, used as tools to organise demonstrations and publicise events. YouTube has seen the number of its playbacks in the MENA double in the last year, in part due to global interest in the mass protests seen across the region.

A lack of regulation regarding social networks has left many local governments struggling to deal with how best to deal with sensitive issues. But YouTube says it will rely on its own global community guidelines, which automatically block illicit content and allow users to ‘flag’ inappropriate videos, rather than introduce specific rules for the Middle East.

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