The vast majority of Middle Eastern Internet users are highly educated, with 69 percent having either graduate or post-graduate degrees, a new survey has found.

The study, “Media Consumption and Habits of Middle East and North Africa Internet Users”, found that 57 percent of Internet users in the region have a graduate degree, and another 12 percent have a post graduate degree.

“No matter what is published in the West about the spread of the Internet, the Internet is not as ‘in’ in the Arab world,” Nabil Dajani, Chairman of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a professor of communications at the American University in Beirut. “In this part of the world the Internet is spread among university students, the educated, the rich and the urban. It has no penetration among the lower middle class or in rural areas.”

“There are a number of reasons: lack of computer literacy, the high cost of Internet and in many places the lack of electricity,” Professor Dajani told The Media Line. “But whatever the reason, you need at least a decade or two until the Internet will catch up in the Arab world.”

The survey of 2,587 Internet users from across the Middle East and North Africa was carried out online in early July by the UAE-based audience measurement firm Effective Measure in conjunction with Spot On Public Relations

Among a wide diversity of findings, the survey revealed that Middle Eastern Internet users spend more time surfing the web than watching television, with 88 percent of Middle Eastern Internet users accessing the Internet daily compared to only 71 percent of respondents watching television each day.

“It is somewhat surprising, and clearly there is a trend away from television to Internet,” Brendon Ogilvy, VP Digital Insights at Effective Measure told The Media Line. “Internet users are spending more time online than they are watching television. The other mediums such as newspapers and magazines are considerably lower than television”

The study also delved into what time of day Middle Easterners accessed different types of media. Those listening to the radio do so primarily in the early morning, newspapers and magazines during office hours, and television between 8pm and midnight.

Internet, on the other hand, is accessed relatively evenly throughout the day and for longer periods of time than television, radio and newspapers. The survey found 51 percent of respondents said they access the Internet for more than three hours a day while 26 percent watch television for the same amount of time. In comparison, more than 80 percent read print newspapers for one hour or less each day.

“People 45 plus are watching television on a daily basis more heavily than youth,” Ogilvy said. “If you look at the 25 and below age group a significantly lower percentage watch TV on a daily basis... But if you look at Internet alone, there is no significant age difference.”

“There is no peak or trough in terms of accessing the Internet,” the researcher said. “With TV we see specific times of the day that people watch, but Internet use is consistent throughout the day,” he said.

“Also, the younger you are the more likely you are to be on the Internet after midnight,” Ogilvy added. “Particularly if you’re accessing social media.”

E-mail is the most popular online activity in the region, with 73 percent of respondents citing it as the activity they most often carry out online. Social networking, searching for information related to personal hobbies and online shopping each attract around 40 percent of Internet users in the region.

Some six out of 10 Middle Eastern Internet users spend an hour or less updating their social networks each day, while four in 10 spend over an hour.

The survey found that women and men access the Internet at relatively even rates across the region, but their reasons for doing so are somewhat different.

“There wasn’t a major difference in terms of consumption by gender,” Ogilvy said. “But what we found is that the main factor for females going to social media is the ability to express their personality. Males, on the other hand, are disproportionately interested in finding a spouse and getting a date.”

Men were more likely to use the Internet to grow a business network, while women were found to be more likely to use the Internet to look for information about health and medicine, and also more likely than men to play online games, the survey found.



The survey is the first in a series of three focusing on the Ramadan advertizing market.

“This is the pre-Ramadan survey. We plan to repeat the survey during Ramadan and post Ramadan,” Ogilvy explained. “Internet consumption and usage supposedly changes radically and shifts to TV during Ramadan - that’s what the advertizing industry assumes and there is an awful lot of money spent on television during Ramadan. But these are significant findings and something that advertizers should be aware of.”

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