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Saudi TV fights off the smartphone challenge

People are still watching full-size TVs rather than streaming programmes on their phone Pexels/Ketut Subiyanto
People are still watching full-size TVs rather than streaming programmes on their phone
  • TV viewing time increases
  • Rise of ‘connected TV’
  • Ad-supported options grow

Smart television is holding up as the main platform for accessing sports, news and entertainment in Saudi Arabia, despite the boom in streaming services that can be watched on smartphones, a leading media researcher said this week.  

“In the past decade there was a lot of transformation in Saudi. New devices, behaviours and trends,” said Athanas Jamo, chief client director at market research company Ipsos in Dubai. 

“A couple of years ago people said TV is dying and now it’s the smartphone era. But no, it’s still here and it’s a powerful medium for brands and advertisers and the experience is becoming richer. Time spent on TV is increasing, not declining.” 

The traditional television medium, known as linear TV, was used by 96 percent of 15-year-olds and above among Saudi Arabia’s population of 32 million, for an average of 323 minutes a day in 2023, Jamo said, up from 309 minutes in 2021. 

Networks watched include leading pan-Arab Saudi-owned MBC and Rotana, and Saudi and UAE-based news channels such as Al Arabiya, Al Hadath, Al Ekhbariya, Asharq and Sky News Arabia. 

Streaming platforms account for 3 to 5 hours per day, but with 96 percent internet penetration in the country they are also reaching the vast majority of people. 

“The rise of streaming services and digital platforms has reshaped the traditional media landscape and challenged the conventional perception about consumption habits,” Jamo said. “But the smartphone didn’t replace the TV screen, the TV screen is still here.” 

Arabic TV networks have moved quickly to meet the challenge from streamers such as Netflix. MBC set up its own Arabic service called Shahid, and Netflix and Shahid currently air the region’s top dramas.

Other streaming channels include Saudi-based STC TV, UAE-based Starzplay, Kuwaiti and Saudi-owned OSN, and Amazon Prime. 

But a key trend now is the popularity of “connected TV” – known as CTV – which gathers in one platform the linear TV channels, streamers, games, Spotify and YouTube, as the various platforms develop subscription versions without advertising and free versions with personalised ads.

“The TV screen is updating to become more interactive and engaging with users, and that changes things for advertisers,” Jamo said. “Globally, the platforms are shifting to ad-supported options, mainly the free ad-supported model.”

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