George Akra: Video advertising provides more brand exposure, more engagement and better results

mediaME spoke to George Akra, co- founder of Toot Corp., a company that has several online properties including ikbis.com, a regional video sharing site. George discusses the growth of online video in the region, the effects of the current political climate on video content, and the future of online video advertising in the Middle East and more.   

Q. Tell us about the growth of video viewership in the Middle East in the past few years.

We have seen that an increasing amount of people are watching videos online. Internet penetration has increased in several countries especially in the Gulf, like the UAE and KSA, and it is growing in countries like Jordan and Egypt. So, Internet penetration is constantly on the rise, and Internet speed is also increasing regionally. This means people have more bandwidth, and therefore have the ability to watch more videos. This can also be attributed to the breadth of content that is now available. 
 
Q. What in your opinion are the obstacles to faster growth in this regard? Why isn’t there more Arabic content on the Internet?
There are several contributing factors. To start with, I think the major issue is that Internet penetration remains relatively low. It is increasing exponentially, and we now have higher Internet speeds and more bandwidth, but it is still a problem. The other problem is that there is a lot self censorship in the region, meaning people are still afraid of producing their own content. For people hoping to monetize such a service, this remains a critical issue.  
 
Q. From your experience, what are the most popular video content categories in the Middle East? And kindly tell us about some differences on a country-by-country basis.
It really differs from time to time. Before the regional revolutions, we were seeing a lot of content that was funny and entertaining. The videos featured a lot of pranks ...etc. The videos covered a range of genres, but the user-generated content that was most popular was basically the content that was shot in countries like KSA (videos of people drifting in their cars, people pulling pranks on each other). After the revolutions, we had a lot of political content being uploaded. A lot of people uploaded footage of protests that they had filmed with their phones. We are seeing more opinionated videos being uploaded, as people's desire for freedom of expression has increased over the past year. 
 
Q. Ikbis and video communities are at the forefront of the video advertising revolution in the Middle East. Tell us about video advertising options and why they differ from typical web advertising.
Video advertising is different from regular banners in the sense that you are seeing visual content that is animated, that is moving. The advertisement is part of the video itself, so it is very similar to TV advertising because you have to watch the ad in order to view the actual content. It is so effective because you get more brand exposure and more engagement. This type of advertisement will surely yield better results. The 'Click Through Rate' (CTR) of a video campaign will generally be much higher than that of a banner campaign.  
 
Q. Are we reaching the tipping point for video advertising to grow exponentially in the Middle East? Or is it still early?
Most agencies (the major ones, at least) have started running video advertisements. Their clients, as well as the agencies themselves are very happy with the results. We are seeing major organizations now advertising via online video advertisements. There is still a long way to go in the region in terms of development. Advertisers still don't use the correct ad formats (the correct length of ads and proper filming techniques). However, over the next twelve months we expect to see considerable growth in the online video advertising industry.
 
Q. What in your opinion are the obstacles preventing faster growth in digital media expenditures in the region?
First of all, you have all these companies (and their marketing managers) that still do not believe in the effectiveness of online video advertising. Many people want to stay in their comfort zone. They want to see a tangible ad, a billboard in the street, an ad in a newspaper or on TV. They still don't believe in the power of online advertising and its efficiency and measurability. That's the major reason why we continue to see small online budgets. 
 
Q. What is the next big thing or major technology that will impact video advertising?
Google Adsense has been providing video advertisements for video publishers, and i think they will be making their way to the region soon. Clients will also begin advertising via YouTube, so I think that will be interesting. We are also seeing more ad networks moving into video advertisements, so that will be a trend to observe.
In terms of technology, I think something that would be able to provide video sites with the ability to publish ads without using a proprietary player would be a real breakthrough. We may be seeing that happening with integration of video for various video players, whether it be using 'Flash' or 'HTML 5'.