Television

Television remains an important source of entertainment in the region, but is losing ground to the internet. Nearly all nationals watch TV (95% in 2014 and 2016), but daily viewing has declined five percentage points since 2014 (64% in 2016 vs. 69% in 2014). The decline is most notable in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt between 2014 and 2016 (Qatar: 62% vs. 41%, KSA: 65% vs. 49%, Egypt: 70% vs. 63%). As fewer nationals watch TV daily, more nationals spend time online daily. The share of internet users passing time online daily jumped 11 percentage points (63% in 2014 vs. 74% in 2016). More adults pass time online daily than watch TV daily in all countries except Egypt and the UAE, where an equal amount of nationals do both daily.

Women are more likely than men to watch TV every day (67% vs. 60%), while both genders are equally likely to go online every day (74% women vs. 73% men). Nearly one-fourth of nationals who watch TV have done so via the internet in the past six months (23%); this pattern is relatively consistent across countries.

The gap between passing time online and watching TV daily is largest among 18 to 24 year-olds (79% vs. 60%)—a 19 percentage point difference favoring being online—and smallest for those 45 years and older, who watch more TV (67% online vs. 70% TV). Additionally, 18 to 24 year-old TV watchers are almost four times as likely to watch online as those 45 years and older (33% vs. 9%).

One-third of university-educated nationals who watch TV do so online (34%), compared to only 3% of those with no more than a primary education.

While many nationals go online for entertainment, relatively few are willing to pay for online content. Only 17% of internet users have paid for any online content in the past year, while 26% are willing to pay in the future. Just one in 50 internet users paid to watch a TV series online in the past year (2%) and only 4% say they are willing to pay. The UAE is an exception; 15% of Emiratis are willing to pay for TV content online, though only 6% have paid for content online.

Three in four internet users have shared—that is, sent or posted—about online videos in the past month. Sizeable minorities shared about news and music, but fewer shared about TV in the past month (30% news, 25% music vs. 16% TV). Saudis, Egyptians, and Emiratis are the mostly likely to share about TV programs online (32% Saudis, 20% Egyptians, 18% Emiratis).

Watching TV programs—and other entertainment media—online is more common among those who see benefits to watching content from other parts of the world (26% of those who see benefits watch TV programs online vs. 17% of those who do not benefits). Similarly, accessing TV online is significantly more common among self-described cultural progressives than among conservatives (34% progressive vs. 18% conservatives watch TV online).

While most nationals watch TV in Arabic, only one-tenth watch in English (99% vs. 11%). English-language viewing is down from 18% overall in 2014, driven especially by the declines in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Use of English is less common for TV than for films, internet, and music (42% films, 37% internet, 30% music). Very few Egyptians and Saudis watch TV in English (3% and 8%); this represents a 30 percentage-point drop in Saudi Arabia from 38% of nationals watching English-language TV in 2014. Consumption of TV in English remains highest in Qatar and the UAE (32% and 24%), despite a decline from 39% among Qataris in 2014.

Though young and university-educated nationals are more likely to watch TV in English, less than one in five are watching in English (18% of 18 to 24 year-olds and 18% of university or more highly educated).

Nearly all nationals in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and the UAE watch domestic programming (99% Egypt, 96% Lebanon, 91% Tunisia, 90% UAE), reflecting the status of all of those nations, except Tunisia, as top producers of scripted TV programming in the region. Production in Qatar is limited to locally broadcast programs, and perhaps consequently, fewer Qataris watch domestic TV (54%) (Media Industries in the Middle East, 2016). Fewer Saudis watch nationally produced programming as well (67%). Saudis, Qataris, and Emiratis are among the most likely to watch TV programs produced in the Arab world (92% Saudis, 79% Qataris, 75% Emiratis). Egyptians watch Egyptian TV programming almost exclusively.

Exposure to TV from outside the Arab region is low, with just one in 10 or fewer nationals saying they watch TV content from the U.S., Europe, Turkey, or India. Qataris are the most likely to watch U.S. programming (34%). One in five Lebanese and Saudis watch Turkish TV (20% and 19%). Those who access TV content online are more likely to watch U.S. programming, especially in Qatar, the UAE, and Tunisia (52% Qatar, 28% UAE, 26% Tunisia).

While it is now possible for many consumers to choose when they watch TV programs as opposed to a set broadcast time, two-thirds of Arab nationals still primarily watch TV at scheduled broadcast times (64% broadcast time vs. 31% other time). Unlike other nationals, Qataris are more likely to watch TV programming at some time other than when it is broadcast (46% other time vs. 29% broadcast time).

One-third of nationals are “binge-watching” TV content, defined as watching multiple episodes of a program in close succession. This trend is seen in all countries, with the UAE having by far the most binge-watchers (56%).

Among those who watch TV, viewing at broadcast times is more common among women than men (70% vs. 58%), and binge-watching TV programs is almost twice as likely among women as men (42% vs. 24%).

Expatriates—Westerners in particular—are more likely than nationals to watch TV content at a time other than when it is broadcast (Western expatriates 43%, Asian expatriates 38%, Arab expatriates 36% vs. Arab nationals 31%).

As in 2014, comedy is the favorite TV genre, followed by drama and news (56% comedy, 44% drama, 37% news). This pattern is generally consistent across the region and similar to 2014, except drama surpassed news in 2016. Three notable exceptions include Qatar, where news, documentaries, and drama are the three favorite genres (36% news, 32% documentaries, 24% drama), Saudi Arabia, where daytime talk shows are preferred over news (31% vs. 27%), and the UAE, where spiritual/religious programming is as popular as news (29% vs. 28%).

While both genders enjoy comedy on TV relatively equally (54% men and 57% women), more men than women show interest in news, sports, and documentary programming (news: 46% vs. 28%, sports: 39% vs. 5%, documentary: 23% vs. 13%). More women, however, enjoy drama, daytime talk shows, religious/spiritual, family, and fashion programming (drama: 55% vs. 33%, daytime talk: 23% vs. 15%, religious/spiritual: 20% vs. 15%, family: 24% vs. 10%, fashion: 14% vs. 3%).

Religious TV programming gained popularity between 2014 and 2016 in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE (Egypt: 17% vs. 24%, KSA: 6% vs. 20%, UAE: 16% and 29%), but declined in popularity in Qatar (40% in 2014 vs. 22% in 2016). Similarly, sports on TV increased in popularity in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE (Egypt: 20% vs. 28%, KSA: 15% vs. 23%, UAE: 16% vs. 27%), but declined in Qatar and Tunisia (Qatar: 30% vs. 18%, Tunisia: 29% vs. 21%).

Nearly twice as many Egyptian and Qatari women compared to their male counterparts show a preference for religious/spiritual programing (Egypt: 31% vs. 17%, Qatar: 30% vs. 15%). Cultural conservatives are twice as likely as progressives to list religious/spiritual programming as a favorite TV genre (22% vs. 11%).

Lebanese continue to be the most interested in news (51% in 2014 and 49% in 2016). Egypt stands out as a notable exception to both the stable appeal of news on TV and increasing appeal of news online. The popularity of both TV and online news as favorite genres dropped significantly among Egyptians between 2014 and 2016 (TV: 42% vs. 32%, online: 41% vs. 25%). More Egyptians, however, now cite other genres such as drama, sports, children’s programming, reality TV, music videos, and religious/spiritual programming among their favorite TV genres compared to 2014.

Four in 10 nationals say some of the films and TV programs they want to watch are unavailable in their country (43%). This sentiment is fairly consistent across countries, ranging from 33% in Lebanon to 52% in Saudi Arabia. Four in 10 also say some of their favorite TV shows are are in a language other than Arabic (41%).

Those who agree that entertainment content from other parts of the world is beneficial are twice as likely as those who disagree to complain about a lack of availability of desired film and TV content in their country (51% of those who agree vs. 25% of those who disagree). Those same nationals also more often indicate their favorite shows are not in Arabic (52% of those who agree vs. 20% of those who disagree).  

Additionally, more VPN (Virtual Private Network) or proxy service users report that some of their preferred entertainment is not available in their country (54% VPN vs. 45% no VPN), which is perhaps a motive to use a VPN.

Cultural progressives, compared to their conservative counterparts, more commonly report that shows they want to watch are inaccessible (55% vs. 42%) or that their favorite shows are not in Arabic (53% vs. 38%).

Those who worry about governments checking what they do online are also more likely to report that some content they want to watch is unavailable in their country or not available in Arabic (54% and 55%) compared to four in 10 nationals who do not express those worries (39% unavailable and 40% non-Arabic).