CNN: The power of human-led storytelling

CNN International Commercial's Sanad Kassem explains the huge change in Saudi Arabia's media landscape

Around the world, the legacy perception of Saudi Arabia has perennially been one of mystery, and often reduced to stereotypes of oil wealth and religious pilgrimages.

However, as someone who grew up in Egypt and regularly visited Saudi Arabia to see family and friends, I have always been struck by the warmth, hospitality, and rich culture of the Saudi people.

Many years later, working for CNN, I continue to travel regularly to Saudi Arabia for both business and pleasure, and I have witnessed the country’s astonishing pace of change, and the ensuing, albeit gradual, transformation of people’s perception.

What brings this transformation to life is the power of storytelling. The rich narratives of Saudi Arabia have enchanted me since I was a young boy, and the Vision 2030 plan has brought these stories to a wider audience.

As part of our “Generation 2030” branded content campaign, CNN showcased the diverse and vibrant Saudi culture, from fashion designers to business pioneers, inspiring and connecting people across the world. It was incredible for someone like me who had met these types of people my whole life to see their stories play out in an advertising campaign across our network.

Storytelling is an art that resonates with people, and its impact is profound. A recent study called The Power of Branded Content found that 66 per cent of people viewed branded content as informative, 75 per cent found it inspiring, and 58 per cent said that it helped them form an emotional connection. The “Generation 2030” campaign exemplified all of these points.

With the rapid changes taking place in Saudi Arabia, there is a wealth of new stories to be told. The country’s focus on diversifying its economy has opened up many new avenues for content creators, particularly in travel and tourism.

One particular sector that is undergoing huge change is the media landscape in Saudi Arabia, with social media playing an increasingly significant role. With 78 per cent of people in Saudi Arabia using five or more social media messaging services, content creators need to adapt and tell their stories across multiple platforms.

At CNN, we leverage smart technology to ensure that a story reaches the right audience at the right moment in the right environment – whether that’s on linear, digital, via a newsletter, podcast or on social media.

Saudi Arabia’s youthful population is demographically inclined towards innovation and open to new trends and technologies. The country’s media consumption trends reflect this, with people spending an average of two hours a day watching online TV/streaming, versus a global average of 90 minutes.

However, people in Saudi Arabia are still watching an average of 1hr 41mins of broadcast TV a day, highlighting the need for diversified strategies in distributing content.

In a world where content is abundant, people crave stories that inspire and inform. Saudi Arabia has a wealth of untold stories waiting to be shared with the world, and I am excited to see how these stories will be told and distributed in the years to come.

By Sanad Kassem, Account Director, CNN International Commercial