The media landscape turned upside down, by Ipsos’s Ziad Issa

Conventional wisdom about consumer habits may not apply during the Holy Month, but there is a wealth of data to show what people are doing differently, writes Ipsos’s Ziad Issa.

By Ziad Issa, chief client officer – media, Ipsos MENA

The media landscape is no stranger to constant change. It has long witnessed shifts in trends, technologies, consumption and overall attitudes. However, during Ramadan, the usual viewer behaviour regarding content consumption is entirely reconstructed. Additionally, the pandemic massively affected the evolution and development of the current media formats, consequently making it harder for the industry to predict how consumers will act in the forthcoming months of Ramadan.

Within the media mix, there are many channels for consumers to pick from, to view their favourite content during Ramadan. Linear TV, for one, reigns as king amongst households and garners more than 97 per cent of the population’s interest in KSA and UAE. The time spent viewing TV also intensifies. TV viewers in UAE spent an extra hour and a half viewing TV in Ramadan 2021 compared with prior months.

The increase in free time during Ramadan and the surge in the volume of localised content drive TV viewers in the region to be glued to their TV sets. This is specifically witnessed in TV viewers’ recorded average time spent with general entertainment channels in Ramadan, with an average of 4 hours and 30 minutes spent consuming such genres during the Holy Month.

In terms of genres, series takes the biggest share of the pie as the most preferred type of content to be viewed, mainly due to the large number of exclusive and localised productions that are created and released over that time period, and localisation is key in Ramadan for a successful content formula.

It is also interesting to see that the hunger for linear TV during Ramadan doesn’t eclipse other media formats. Other channels also witness an increase in usage, indicating that they all sit in the front seat, driving the entirety of the media landscape. The rise of media usage during Ramadan indicates that multiscreen usage is in full effect compared with other times of the year. This change is significant for both viewers and advertisers, and definitely very challenging for the latter.

Shifting into the consumers’ online behaviour, it is no surprise that the time spent on social media and video sharing platforms increases in Ramadan as well; but, with massive chunks of free time, people seek to watch more long-form content, such as movies and TV shows, that is easily available on streaming platforms.

What’s more interesting is the fact that linear TV and OTT become complementary to each other during Ramdan. OTT brands are no longer competing with TV but rather providing another platform for viewers to catch up and consume the content that is on TV, with many linear TV series and shows being offered on OTT platforms that are self-owned by channels.

Dissecting the OTT realm in the region within the context of the Holy Month, consumption of video streaming platforms increased during Ramadan of 2021 compared with other months of the year (based on 2020). However, we see a decrease in music listenership through streaming platforms and a noticeable increase in podcast listenership during the month of Ramadan in 2021 (increased by 5 per cent). This indicates that a lot of people tend to substitute music with other audio formats for religious reasons.

SVOD penetration remains on par, or witnesses a slight increase in the case of UAE. Similar to linear TV viewership behaviour in Ramadan, the viewership of SVOD platforms is most significant from post-Iftar time (7pm) till late night (2am), as about five out of 10 VOD streamers tend to view content during this period in KSA and UAE.

Moreover, the usual top content genres that are viewed by video streamers during other months of the year aren’t as important during Ramadan. For example, western movies and series are typologies that we are accustomed to seeing in viewers’ top favourite lists. This is not the case during Ramadan; these are replaced with the likes of Arabic series, and genres such as religious content, documentaries and educational content.

All in all, the pandemic might have slowed down a lot of things but it certainly hasn’t hindered the OTT industry from growing. It accelerated its development in the region and people were quick to adapt to it, further proving that OTT is here to stay and will only get bigger.

Not only does video content consumption behaviour reshape in Ramadan, but so do social media and online trends as well. For example, about eight out of 10 internet users in UAE and KSA believe that their social media usage increases in Ramadan compared with other months. In addition to that, online shopping also intensifies during that month, with about 80 per cent of internet users in KSA doing some sort of online shopping or at least visiting an e-commerce website.

As noticed in linear TV and OTT viewership, a jump in the time spent on the internet is also witnessed among the UAE population during Ramadan, with three in four people spending at least five hours a day on the internet.

Ramadan is a fascinating time for the media industry. It is a gift that keeps on giving to viewers and a challenge to advertisers. The fight for viewers’ attention through advertising surpasses the value of reach, and the attention economy becomes the number one priority. Everything we know about consumer behaviour is flipped upside down and, consequently, businesses have to adapt to this uncertainty and these unexpected changes, grasping at straws to cater to consumers’ changing needs and behavioural trends during Ramadan.