The arrival of social media platforms has not only changed the advertising and marketing sector, but entertainment too. Combined with fintech and e-commerce, social media has spurred on the development of the “creator economy” comprising businesses built by some 50 million social media influencers, bloggers, videographers and curators. According to research from the Influencer Marketing Factory, the creator market, combined with the influencer marketing industry, is worth $104.2 billion globally. Such is the potential of this sector, also known as the “orange economy”, the United Nations named 2021 the ‘Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development’.
More creators have been emerging in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), particularly since the pandemic as demand for entertainment and content grew during the lockdowns. The creative economy in the region is quickly developing from one dominated by social media influencers to a wide variety of content creation, a shift fuelled by the rise of TikTok and its short-form video content. Surrounding creators is an ever-evolving digital economy underpinned by social media which includes influencer marketplaces like Kuwait’s Boutiqaat, influencer’s own direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands as well as celebrity shout-out apps like Minly and Starzly.
Perhaps the most prominent example of a creator in the Middle East who was able to monetise their platform is Huda Kattan, founder of UAE-based cosmetics company Huda Beauty. Kattan began with a blog and a Youtube channel posting make up tutorials before launching her own beauty brand that attracted investment from private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners, which valued the company at $1.2 billion back in 2017. Today, Huda Beauty continues to grow and now has its own investment and venture studio arm, building and investing in new startups in the health, wellness and beauty space.
“If we invest in the creative economy by enhancing it, it can be a source of business. If we invest in fostering creative minds, we can benefit from the creative economy. The digital sphere has showcased how this can be monetised and has opened everyone’s eyes to it,” says Mai Salama, founder of Creative Industry Summit (C-S) which was held in Cairo last week, where the conference’s 23 tracks focused on topics including influencers, esports and gaming and the evolution of the startup ecosystem in the region.
The event itself was created back in 2014 at a time where “there were no events or platforms that provided networking, exposure or education to the creative market,” according to Salama who decided to launch C-S to bring the creative sector together and discuss the impact of technology on the sector.
“Nobody knew how to use technology, you would copy the ad from TV to Facebook and until now we don’t understand the full scale of the digital world. Even if we think we understand it, every day we’re discovering more and being challenged more,” she says.
Rise in video
As smartphones have become more sophisticated and accessible, mobile internet penetration rates have risen and social media platforms have repositioned themselves as content creation platforms, traditional routes to producing content and distributing it have been shattered. Egypt-based Peace Cake launched its online content creation company five years ago and now boasts one million subscribers on YouTube and another million on Facebook. The team behind the company produce their own shows including Romanseya Manseya and Emsek Nafsak for social media platforms, with each video ranging from eight to 15 minute and monetised primarily through ads and sponsorships. The company is also behind Shaf ma Shaf with Netflix, a partnership it struck with the streaming giant to produce YouTube videos based on Netflix’s shows.
“Video content we believe is the future, these days when people scroll through Facebook and YouTube, they are consuming so much content, but at the same time the brands are not there with them, they’re not creating enough content,” says Ahmed Youssef, co-founder and commercial director at Peace Cake. “Our agency is based on producing video content and we use our own social platform to experiment and see what works best.”
Peace Cake’s content is all in Arabic, a conscious decision by the team who feel they would not have achieved the same success if they’d focused on the English-speaking market. There is a dearth of Arabic content, estimated to account for just 5 per cent of all online content.
“When it comes to developing content or coming up with new business innovations like cinema tech, there are new lines of business coming out of a creative need,” says Salama.
Internet culture typically follows the 1 per cent rule, that is just 1 per cent of the internet population creates content regularly, 9 per cent contribute sparingly while the remaining 90 per cent only observe and consume content. This rule shifts the power balance towards the regular creators and social media companies are under increasing pressure to attract them to their own platforms.
TikTok established a $2 billion fund last year to “support ambitious creators who are seeking opportunities to foster a livelihood through their innovative content”. Mena creators are now eligible for YouTube’s $100 million global fund for its Shorts feature, its own short-form vertical videos offering similar to TikTok. Meanwhile Facebook announced a $1 billion programme to pay creators until 2022 for the content they create on Facebook and Instagram.
“This investment will include new bonus programmes that pay eligible creators for hitting certain milestones when they use our creative and monetisation tools. We’ll also provide seed funding for creators to produce their content. Our goal is to help as many creators as possible find sustainable, long-term success on our apps,” the company announced in a statement.
Snapchat’s Spotlight, another short-form video feature inspired by TikTok, is giving creators “a million a day” based on engagement with their content.
According to Salama, it has become a race for both the platforms and the creators. It seems at the moment, TikTok is winning this race, with 30 per cent of content creators ranking it as their favourite platform, followed by Instagram and Youtube, both at 22 per cent. These three platforms are also where creators make the most money – TikTok (24 per cent), Instagram (22 per cent) and Youtube (20 per cent). The main source of income remains brand deals (31 per cent) followed by the creator’s own brand or business (25 per cent) and then creator funds (15 per cent).
“[The creative economy] is a form of empowerment, it is a form of helping countries develop and advance, the creative economy is an untapped market that has so much weight, that countries can economically rise if they focus on it,” says Salama. “It’s enabled regional voices to go across the world, it has allowed our creativity to go miles.”