eMarketer estimates the number of internet users in the Middle East & Africa rose by almost 20% in 2012 and will see similar advances this year. But penetration is still the lowest in the world, on average, because high usage in some countries is counterbalanced by very low use in others. Ipsos MediaCT noted that the UAE registered 75% penetration in 2012 and Saudi Arabia 60%, while Egypt reached just 26%—and even that was among only respondents in better-connected urban areas.
Rising mobile penetration is boosting web access, though. When the Dubai School of Government surveyed people across the region in March 2013, more than 60% said they used a laptop or desktop to access the internet. But 36% said they went online with a smartphone, while 25% and 24% logged on via feature phone or tablet, respectively.
With digital advertising, too, Middle East & Africa is beginning to make up for low spending levels in the past. The market is ripe for expansion: Digital ad spending will reach $1.35 billion this year, just over 1% of the $117.60 billion worldwide total. But across the region, expenditure by advertisers on digital platforms will leap by more than 47% in 2013, eMarketer estimates—nearly four times the global average of 13.0%.
Not surprisingly, MEA accounts for a tiny portion of the world‘s mobile internet ad spending. eMarketer estimates that slice at 0.3% this year. Even in 2017, the region‘s share will be less than 1% of the global total. In a June 2013 interview with Gulf Business magazine, Yousef Tuqan Tuqan, CEO of digital agency Flip Media, said regional advertisers were still “stuck in the 20th century,” with most apps and mobile sites failing to deliver a good user experience. But he also noted that more than one-third of smartphone users in MENA had at least two smartphones, and almost all users downloaded and accessed apps daily. This rocketing use of smartphones is driving tremendous interest and growing commitment from advertisers. Spending on the mobile web in MEA is expected to reach $50.4 million in 2013—more than double the $21.0 million invested in 2012 and the largest percentage increase in the world (140%).
The number of MEA visitors to social sites will leap by nearly 28% in 2013, eMarketer forecasts, as penetration reaches 80.5% of the region’s internet users—compared with 66.6% in North America and 61.5% in Western Europe. Of course, social media played a central role in the Arab Spring, but for many people, the possibility of expressing themselves via social platforms also seems to meet a more basic need. Among MEA respondents polled by the Dubai School of Government in 2013, 85% agreed that social media had enabled better social activity for them.
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