Widespread regional unrest in the first quarter of 2011 sparked a sea change in media consumption habits. The political turmoil led many consumers to seek their news online instead of the more traditional medium of television, while turning to news channels more avidly than in the past. Nonetheless, many advertisers either curtailed or toned down their visibility during the height of the protests. How will this year’s political unrest affect the MENA media landscape in the long term?
The Middle East unrest ignited a marked change in media consumption habits. The power of the internet and digital media enabled citizens to mobilize political protests, including the historic Tahrir Square march that led to the ousting of Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. The previous month, the Tunisian president stepped down in similar circumstances.
Social media granted millions a voice: a loud and clear voice that travelled – not only through the cobwebs of entrenched local governments – but also to the far-flung TV screens of CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera, as well as the computers and mobile phones of avid global supporters, commentators and fellow protestors.
The region’s predisposition for social media and news increased dramatically during the initial stages of protests. Millions of new Twitter and Facebook users signed up during the height of the crises that spread through countries as distinct as Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman. Since then, there has been a slight drop off in social networking users across the region, but the overall increase in user-base remains considerable.
Equally significant is the change in the regional perception of social media and how these new-found consumer expression and aspirations will affect future media consumption and advertising behavior.
The rapid take-up of online sites, increased news viewing, and temporarily decreased advertising spend were clear trends during the peak of the crisis, but only time will tell how permanent and impactful the unrest has been for the Middle East media in the longer term.