The affluent population in Qatar presents opportunities for businesses in delivering content and selling services on web-based and mobile platforms. Content distribution is made easier through a very high rate of internet and mobile phone connectivity. World Bank data show there were more than 1.2m internet subscribers and over 2.3m mobile phone subscribers in the country as of 2010. Furthermore, a large portion of the population is increasingly linked into social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. An estimated 34% of the population had a Facebook account in 2010, behind only Bahrain and the UAE among the Gulf countries. The purchasing power of this population is huge, representing a vast market for online and mobile advertising and sales.
GOING ONLINE: Businesses are also increasing their web presence, though smaller local firms lag behind on this trend. While 95% of large businesses with more than 500 employees have a website, only 6% of small firms (under nine employees) and 40% of medium-sized businesses (under 100 employees) invest in one, according to the “Qatar Digital Media Landscape 2011” study commissioned by ictQATAR, the government agency responsible for sector regulation.
Within this context, the number of business service providers that host and design websites, develop mobile applications and provide online advertising services is growing. This market still remains largely untapped due in part to a lack of local skills and businesses that seek to leverage it. With the aim of bridging this gap, several institutions have established programmes to help train journalists and educate future participants in the local sector. Qatar University, for example, has courses in mass communication and information sciences.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) also conducts training for local journalists. DCMF’s Junior Reporter programme, for example, helps schoolchildren learn how to make their own broadcasts.
UNDERSTANDING THE MEDIA: Qatar Foundation (QF) is leading these efforts at the university level, investing in bringing international expertise directly into the country by inviting Northwestern University in Qatar ( NUQ) to establish a campus at QF in 2008. NU-Q offers degrees in journalism and communications, which train students in working within the digital media landscape.
The investment is already delivering returns. Four female students from NU-Q will launch a digital production company in 2012 using the QR30,000 ($8238) prize they won in the QITCOM 2012 innovation competition. ictQATAR will also support the venture, helping the team set up a legal framework for the company and provide office space for two years. NU-Q’s participation in the media education sector is a step forward not only for Qatar but the entire region.
NU-Q is, in fact, already working across borders within the region. Drawing on its significant international knowledge base, NU-Q is helping to facilitate and inform discussions on the role of media by representatives of Libya’s post-revolution government. The conference, which was initiated by the Libyan delegation and hosted in Doha, aims to enable Libyan efforts to develop its media practically from scratch.
DIGITAL NEEDS: Qatar is developing the infrastructure for digital media, gradually liberalising the telecoms and information and communication technology (ICT) market, and building a high-speed broadband network.
The government has recognised the potential of establishing Qatar as digital economy centre in the region and is investing in strategies and initiatives to encourage e-commerce, which includes digital media.
While recent progress in developing digital media education has been important, there are challenges to consolidating the results. Perhaps the most difficult to overcome is convincing young students and professionals to enter the media and journalism industry because of the stigma attached to the industry as a less-than-serious career. But the introduction of international universities such as NU-Q into the Qatari digital media landscape is helping to shift perceptions. The field is increasingly seen as a viable option for a career, as evidenced by the rising number of applications to NU-Q.
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