Media: Arabic portals eye traffic and ad dollars

Digital ad spend expected to total $200m in the Gulf region this year

Egyptians log on to the internet at a community centre near a mosque in Cairo. Egypt is second to Saudi Arabia when it comesto the highest traffic to the portal.
Gulf News

Dubai: The online media wars for eyeballs — and the increased advertising dollars that come with it — continue in earnest. CNN has just come out with a revamped look for its Arabic language portal,, and the broadcaster makes clear that grabbing more traffic is central of the change.

“In 2013, we witnessed a massive increase in unique users and visitors to, approximately 70 per cent year-on-year up to December,” said Peter Bale, vice-president and general manager at CNN Digital International. “With the new redesign, we’re hopeful the website will generate further traffic [and] that growth will help drive interest from advertisers trying to reach that audience. The new site is designed to accelerate that.”

Saudi Arabia provides the highest traffic to the portal followed by Egypt and the UAE. Outside of the region, the hits are coming from the Arab diaspora in the US.

Latest estimates reckon that there are more than 90 million Arabic speaking people online. Arabic is also among the top 10 languages on the web.

Not surprisingly, digital ad spends in the region are following this trend. In the GCC, this is now estimated to scale up to $200 million (Dh734.6 million) this year, with Arabic language portals generating the largest share of the spend.

Terrestrial and satellite TV broadcasters in the region have not been slack in raising their online game. The first point-of-contact for breaking news these days is inevitably played out on the portals. With the in-built audiences for their television offerings, broadcasters believe they can get them to stay committed to their portals as well, while simultaneously try and win over new viewers.

“With over 350 million Arabic speaking people in 20 plus countries, Arabic internet content is one of the fastest growing language contents in the world,” said Mahesh Sundaresan, CEO at Ikon Advertising & Marketing. “There is bound to be explosive growth in the region over the next three years for Arabic content portals; growth is primarily driven by news, entertainment and sports content.”

For CNN, apart from generating traffic, a stated aim is “encouraging Arab speakers from around the world” to use the portal to interact with others.

Over the last year, it has enlarged the team of Arabic-speaking journalists and on the editorial side there is an emphasis on shorter updates and more original analysis.

“We also respond to what readers want... which is often original reporting about their region,” said Bale. “Only a small minority of the content is translated from other CNN sources.”

According to Sundaresan, sites such as Al Jazeera, MSN Arabia and Yahoo Maktoob are driving growth in the news genre, while does it in sports. “The region has a voracious appetite for news content in the native language — CNN with its already established brand affinity has the potential to become one of the top Arabic portals, while the BBC Arabic site is also picking up momentum,” he added.