Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting for Muslims around the world, is also a time of celebration. An important component of the tradition is iftar, the daily breaking of the fast that involves the gathering of extended family and friends. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many Muslims were not able to convene with loved ones during iftar. But Google, the parent company of YouTube, decided to bring the tradition to YouTube in a major way. Omar Hussein, a content creator and doctoral student in the media and communication program at Klein College of Media and Communication, was one of several Middle Eastern content creators who collaborated with Google to break a Guinness World Record on May 19 for the most-viewed iftar live stream, which garnered more than 183,000 concurrent viewers.
Omar has made a name for himself in his home country of Saudi Arabia and internationally as a comedian, producer and show host. With more than 650,000 subscribers on YouTube, he connects with audiences to discuss current events of regional and international importance. He started the media and communication doctoral program in January and is interested in how social media influencers can inspire their audiences to make positive changes in society.
With the approach of Ramadan, Google reached out to Omar and other Middle Eastern content creators to brainstorm ways to celebrate iftar while observing social distancing guidelines. They eventually decided on an iftar live stream that they hoped would break a Guinness World Record. Both Google and the content creators promoted the event beforehand through various social media posts and campaigns. He was very involved in the creation and execution of the live stream, helping Google with behind-the-scenes coordination and marketing efforts. He was also the event's moderator and was monitored by a representative of Guinness to keep the conversation about Ramadan so that the live stream could qualify for the world record.
"I had to remain focused between three main pillars: being within the guidelines of Guinness World Records...making sure that this whole flow of conversation is entertaining and also working with the director because we had to announce...now it's iftar time in this city, now it's iftar time in that city. And these things you can't do ten minutes later or five minutes earlier," He explains.
Mariam Dabbousi, assistant product marketing manager for Google's consumer applications in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), was impressed with Omar's diligence in organizing the event, calling him "a bit of a godsend for this live stream." Because of the efforts of Google and the participating content creators, she reports that the live stream received tens of millions of social media impressions and was the #1 trending video on YouTube across MENA. The recorded video of the live stream now has more than 7.6 million views on YouTube.
But for the content creators, one of the most rewarding parts of the stream was giving back. In honor of the event, YouTube donated $250,000 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a United Nations agency that looks out for the rights of refugees, stateless people and forcibly displaced communities. Dabboussi says that all of the content creators wanted to use YouTube to help those in need across the Arab world.
"It's very nice to be able to see that one, the platform has opened doors for creators to do all these amazing things but also that they're grateful for it and they want to give back to the community," she says.
Omar, whose content and research has always valued community, was motivated to make the live stream both record-breaking and purposeful.
"I think it's important that we actively search for ways where we could contribute to a greater cause that is greater than the number of likes that we have," he says. "You know, you can help out refugees, you could go out for a specific cause that you believe in that is [for the] greater good for...supporting marginalized communities."
Besides Omar, the other content creators featured in the live stream were family vlogger Mohamed Moshaya, fashion vlogger Noor Stars and lifestyle vloggers Asrar Aref, The Saudi Reporters and the Anasala Family. All of the content creators' YouTube channels have a combined count of more than 45 million subscribers.