The one country where YouTube is surprisingly popular

Could YouTube spark a film industry in Saudi Arabia? It's certainly showing there's a large appetite for provocative film.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor
YouTube started in the United States but it's being embraced around the world with about 70 percent of YouTube's traffic comes from outside the U.S. But no place has YouTube's popularity been more surprising than a country where movie theaters are banned.

In fact, it's Saudi Arabia where YouTube has the most users per capita of any country in the world.

An article from Reuters points out that 90 percent of Saudi households have either digital or satellite television, but it's YouTube where some of the most provocative content is being produced and watched around the country. A recent example coming from a group of women uploading videos on YouTube of themselves driving to protest a ban on female drivers. As Reuters reports:
Channels transmitting to the kingdom tend to rely on shows that present an idealized picture of Saudi life or foreign productions that are often remote from the experiences of most viewers in a country where nearly half the population is under 25.  
"Traditional media companies ... create content that is disconnected from reality," said UTURN's Mando.
The Saudi government has taken steps to monitor or block some web-based communications and content with an eye on the role social media played in the protests that unseated rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.  
But the authorities have so far given YouTube free rein.
UTURN is one of the most popular channels with nearly 200,000 subscribers and nearly 300 million views.

It's also worth noting that YouTube isn't the only example of Saudis embracing video. Over the last two years, "Wadjda" -- the first feature film to be filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia by Saudi Arabia's first female film director -- has been making the rounds at film festivals around the world. It's earned heaps of praise from critics (I'm no film critic myself, but I must say it's definitely worth your time) and is the first time a Saudi Arabian film has been entered for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

Of course, one good film doesn't necessarily mean there's a film revolution happening in Saudi Arabia. There are plenty who are concerned by the status quo being challenged. But looking at that along with the popularity of YouTube, you have to wonder if these could help spark a budding film industry. But maybe I'm being too hopeful. "Wadjda" will do that to you.

Read more: Reuters

Photo: Flickr/Rego Korosi

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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