Book explores mobile media disruption in Middle East

The book looks at audience engagement with mobile media including internet use and such specific content as news.

How mobile media are changing the communication landscape in the Middle East is explored in a new book published under a research grant at Northwestern University in Qatar.

The book, Mobile Disruptions in the Middle East, co-authored by John V. Pavlik, Everette E. Dennis, Rachel Davis Mersey and Justin Gengler and published by Routledge, offers lessons from the Arabian Gulf, notably Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and draws on data collected as part of a $726,000 award from the Qatar National Research Fund. Pavlik, a professor of journalism at Rutgers was formerly associate dean for research at NU-Q where Dennis is dean and CEO. Mersey is an associate professor at NU’s Medill School while Gengler is assistant research professor at the Social and Economic Survey Research Center at Qatar University.

As lead author Pavlik states, “The Gulf states are the perfect setting for a study that tests the impact of modern media disruption as the region rapidly adopts mobile media from laptops and smartphones to wearable devices.” Qatar and the UAE have the highest internet penetration in the world with 99 percent of the population covered, according to the 2018 Global Digital report. Mobility, the NU-Q based study notes, “has long been an important aspect of life in the Middle East… [and] has a strong and deep sociological foundation in Qatar and Arabian Gulf with the movement of Bedouin tribes and their traditions shaping the lifestyle and values of the Gulf.”

This cultural and historical context for mobile communication, even before the digital age, set the stage for rapid development as these wealthy nations were able to engage with the internet and mobile devices early on, the book suggests. In addition to the Al Jazeera Networks and BeIn Sports, both based in Qatar, the UAE has a notable media city with scores of media companies and other digital enterprises. 

Dennis notes that the study “benefits from the collaboration of scholars from four institutions and is aimed at analyzing the advanced media scene of the Gulf States with lessons for the global community. It has the advantage of connecting with the world-wide concern about media disruption in one of the most dynamic digital battlegrounds anywhere,” he said.

Commentators in the Middle East have long hoped that advanced communication in the region would lead to a more accurate and nuanced image of the Arab world than is presently seen in Western media and the book aims to break down communication flawed by inaccuracies and misunderstandings that distort the image of the region and its peoples.

As the book was a being written a four-nation blockade of Qatar set off an information war between the two states under study in the volume (UAE and Qatar) among others that challenges accurate and reliable information amid fake news and other deliberate distortions. Data for the book was collected before the blockade occurred in June 2017, though interviews with key sources continued after that. 

The book looks at audience engagement with mobile media including internet use and such specific content as news—and how media organizations adapt and respond to mobile media while tracking trends in the development of innovative content aimed at attracting and serving individuals and audiences.

Set in the context of the convergence of modern, digital media, the authors address the role of disruption innovation and transformation changes based on results from the large-scale study of mobile media disruption conducted over three years by the authors.

One goal is “to advance understanding of consumer preferences for different types of content” ranging from news to entertainment, sports, music and games, among others. Mobile Media Disruptions in the Middle East is the first of several reports, this one involving a quantitative survey of consumers paired with interviews, with media industry leaders.

Future work includes qualitative testing of consumer engagement with specific mobile media content innovations. With heavy use of social and mobile media as a means of private and public communication in both Qatar and the UAE, the quantitative survey attested to great enthusiasm for new internet content designed specifically for mobile media---as well as growing interest in emerging augmented and visual reality (AR and VR), both new applications that the public now seems eager to adopt and use.

The book is a timely a case study of the conflict between the convergence or coming together of all media that now conquer time and space (thanks to the computer and high-speed internet) with disruption which is an assault on that unification, according to one of the book’s chapters on “Innovation and Media Disruption.” As the authors put it, the media-rich states of the Arab Gulf are the right setting for what could be a glimpse of the future.

The book includes a detailed assessment of disruption theory first posited by Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School and several revisionist critiques of his pioneering research.

In considering trends in the next generation of journalism and media, the authors argue that the emergence of mobile media are the dominant platform for public engagement and offer media leaders opportunities to engage in greater innovation. They are urged to develop more extensive original content designed for mobile hand-held media, to make greater use of immersive and interactive mobile content formats such as 360 video and augmented reality on hand-held devices, expand engagement and interactivity for social media networks and to design mobile media content that takes advantage of what is known as geolocation or geographical tracking of messages and images.

The Mobile Disruptions study is part of a multi-faceted institutional research program at NU-Q that includes a distinctive longitudinal study of Media Use in the Middle. Media Industries in the Middle East and studies of digital technologies and health communication among others.

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