Facebook News Media: A Lesson From Palestine

31 March 2017

Our MENA Facebook Index shows an exceptional news appetite, but also room for further growth in the Arab world.

Today, we released Facebook Index Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which measures news outlets in this region based on the number of their followers reported to the size of their local market.

Heavy News Diet

The news media market on Facebook in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is very atypical compared to other regions. A total of 17 news outlets score higher than 100, which means that they are followed by more than their country’s population. According to the Facebook Index methodology, the index expresses the ratio between the number of followers and the total Facebook Universe users in a given national market.

Given the dominance of Arabic in the MENA region, high scores are not a surprise. Most of these news outfits reach out massively to Arabic speakers outside their national market. Nonetheless, the region sports a wealth of news media with a high number of followers. Besides the readership spillovers beyond the local markets, this is an indication of the still-healthy appetite for news products in the region.

The Palestinian Magic

Palestine dominates the MENA Facebook Index with eight outlets in the top 10 most followed news outlets. As Palestine has a relatively low Facebook penetration in the region (only a third or so of Palestine’s inhabitants), and a small population (bigger only than that of Oman, Kuwait and Qatar), it looks like its dominance in the Facebook news media market in the region is fueled mostly by Arab readers from outside Palestine.

The outlet with the biggest index in the region is Al Quds, the most widely circulating Palestinian newspaper with a history harking back to 1951. It has a score of 492.3, which means that it reaches an audience nearly fivefold bigger than Palestine’s Facebook market.

Arab Leaders

Given the homogeneity of the Arab language market in the MENA region, the picture of the Facebook news market is better understood there in conjunction with the Arabic Facebook Index, which measures the number of followers reported to the total number of Arabic speakers online.

In this index, Palestinian operations still rank high thanks to their swelling follower bases. With nearly 8.4 million followers, Al Quds wins a respectable 14th place with a score of 5. That means that it reaches 5 in 100 of the 168 million or so Arabic-speaking Facebook users in the region and elsewhere. That is more or less the BBC Arabic reach in the Arabic Facebook Index.

The leaders in the region’s Arabic market are, as expected, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya TV networks. However, their Facebook Index is less than one would expect. They reach 12.7 and 11.8 of all Arabic Facebook users in the region.

Egypt has a good standing in the region’s Arabic language market. Eight of the 20 largest news outfits in the Arabic Facebook Index hail from Egypt. The biggest one is MBC Masr, a commercial TV operation controlled by the Dubai-based MBC Group. Much of its success comes from the commercial soap operas and reality shows that it airs.

An influential channel in the region is Sky News Arabia, a news channel that is jointly run by Britain’s Sky group and Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation (ADMIC), a company controlled by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi Emirate ruling family.

Eyes on Egypt

The Facebook news market in the MENA region might look saturated to some. But it’s far from it. The high indexes of so many news media outlets show an extremely high appetite for news consumption. After a groundswell in Facebook news audiences over the course of the past decade, it seemed that the growth was coming to a halt.

However, a few demographic and penetration indicators show that there is room for further, steady growth.

One country to watch in the near future is Egypt

First of all, take the low internet usage rate in largely populated countries: in Egypt less than 40% of its 90 million people browse the internet. That is low compared to Bahrain’s over 92%. Secondly, the Facebook Universe in the MENA region, totaling some 142.4 million users, is still low compared to the region’s overall population. In only seven of the region’s 19 countries, Facebook reaches more than half of the nation’s total population.

One country to watch in the near future is Egypt, a massive market that still has much to offer. As already observed, its internet use there is low. Facebook is used by only 35.5% of all Egyptians. The biggest players on Egyptian Facebook are some of the country’s large media companies such as MBC Masr and CBC, a commercial channel owned by Mohamed Al-Amin, an entrepreneur known for links with the former Mubarak regime. Younger news media outlets are growing fast in the country, and so currently, the time for investment there is ripe.

Photo: Courtesy Al Quds

Facebook Index MENA, March 2017

Note: data collected in February 2017; Source: Mediapowermonitor.com, 2017; Check the full Index

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