Ramadan brings Middle East closer to Facebook, Youtube

Middle East spends 58 million more hours on Facebook in Ramadan: Report
3 min read
28 May, 2019
While Muslims fast and focus on worship during Ramadan to become closer to God, many in the Middle East also spend millions more hours on social media.
Ramadan is the best time of year for advertisers in the Middle East [AFP]

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, intended to bring worshippers closer to God through long hours of fasting, contemplation and prayer, brings more visitors in the Middle East to Facebook and YouTube than any other time of year.

People in the Middle East and North Africa spend around 58 million more hours on Facebook during Ramadan and watch more YouTube videos than during any other time of year, The Associated Press reported.

Business booms in particular for Facebook, which also owns Instagram, and Google, which owns YouTube.

Companies throughout the region often shorten working hours during the holy month to ease Muslim employees' fasting obligations, leaving the fasting with more downtime to spend browsing social media. Many in the region also stay up all night until Suhoor, the early morning meal before another day of fasting begins.

That translates to 5% more time - or almost 2 million more hours daily - spent on Facebook's platforms than at any other time of year, Facebook's managing director for the Middle East and North Africa, Ramez Shehadi, said.

It is also a time of year during which Facebook tries to connect with its roughly 180 million users in the Middle East by offering special Ramadan icons to use on the platform. Instagram also has a campaign to promote acts of kindness during the holy month.

"We're trying to be magnifiers and propagators of goodness as opposed to what might seem on the surface like an extension of consumerism," Shehadi said. "It resonates with the ethos of Ramadan and certainly the ethos of Facebook, which is around bringing people together around things that matter to them."

But bringing people together also means bringing in lots more advertising revenue.

Ramadan is the prime season for advertising in the region, with TV dramas and soap operas witnessing a 151% increase in viewership on YouTube during the holy month, according to Google.

"YouTube is a companion during Ramadan, a platform where viewers can watch what they want, whenever they want throughout the day," Google says in its pitch to advertisers.

So much ad revenue is spent trying to entice fasting viewers to spend that Google launched "The Lantern Award" to celebrate the most creative and engaging ads of the month.

While Google does not disclose total watch time for YouTube videos during Ramadan, it says that in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for example, time spent watching sports videos rises by 22%, travel videos by 30%, and action, simulation and video games by 10-20%.

Although it may appear a contradiction for Muslims to spend their fasting hours on YouTube, the holy month also marks a high point in viewership of religious content.

Google says the top trending search queries during the first week of Ramadan in Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia included "Game of Thrones", English Premier League results and Ramadan TV shows, but also prayer times.

Iftar, the evening fast-breaking meal, can also be major social affair in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf, where many attend lavish five-star hotel buffets for both Iftar and Suhoor. This marks a major spike in beauty product and tips searches during Ramadan.

According to Google maps, trips to the mall also increase by more than 20% in the run-up to the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the holy month, for which Muslims often buy new clothes and gifts.