Does the UAE Offer the Perfect Growth Model for the IP Age?

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I have attended IBC in Amsterdam for the last 7 years (it’s not a glamorous as it sounds!), and each year it provides me with great insight into new products and technologies, along with current and coming market trends. So I was optimistic about what I'd find at when I landed in Dubai for the first time in 10 years to attend IBC Content Everywhere MENA, which just completed its second year running in the UAE.

In stark contrast to its European counterpart, IBC MENA was almost completely IP infrastructure based, save for the occasional outside broadcast trucks and Super HD 8K screens. What pleasantly surprised me during the conference was the creativity and speed of uptake that an IP-driven infrastructure has created.

The digital age of IP has erupted exponentially over the past decade in the gulf nations. While access is limited for specific services such as point-to-point video services (FaceTime is just a no-go here) general access to online content is readily available, with 71% of content consumed being on mobile. What’s more, audiences here are participating in online video creation at a staggering rate, with more than 3 hours of video content uploaded to YouTube from the UAE every minute.

This high usage of online video has a direct correlation to radio in the local territory. Even back in 2011 Steve Smith from Arabian Radio Network publicised that users of radio were growing 105% a month, with 30,000 downloads of their internet radio app in the first month.

Fast-forward to today, and internet radio advertising revenue is at a staggering $225 million and set to hit $775 million by 2018, a growth rate of 34% a year. This can only point back to the market penetration that IP has in the UAE, with 85% of the population actively using smartphones every day.

Something that really stuck out during the course of this conference was how online media growth had been driven, summarised in a presentation from UTURN Entertainment.  Gone are the days where brands (big and small) actively drive their fans to come through their own front door. While UTURN's most popular broadcast medium was YouTube at the outset, the company actually grew an additional 14 million subscribers using the other social mediums of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google + and Blackberry Messenger in the last year alone. What's more, this content wasn’t live linear broadcast but rather on-demand and catch-up audio and video content.

This has driven me to ask some questions of the internet radio presence back home in the UK, having observed a growth of just over 4% in the past year for live linear radio, in comparison to a 45% increase in catch-up content. One has to ask if live internet radio growth can catch up its on-demand partner with the right growth models or an upate to regulation for live and catch-up content? And given the huge surge in smartphone users across the globe accessing content at their will, is the industry pushing to capture the younger "WWW" generation—"what, when and where?"

One thing is for sure: Internet radio, in the gulf regions at least, is growing and will only continue to do so. Given that most of this growth is with western content with Arabic content close behind, have the gulf nations struck a golden balance to grow not only commercially but also in terms of audience participation?

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