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When Hollywood is Not Enough – OTT Content in the Middle East

October 6, 2015 Leave a comment

The pure-play premium OTT market in the Middle East recently saw another entrant in the form of Starz Play Arabia joining the likes of Icflix, OSN Go and a bevy of telco offerings. Meanwhile, rumours abound of the impending arrival of Netflix and the launch of new broadcaster-backed offerings. This is all good news, as competition undoubtedly benefits consumers and drives innovation.

However, even at this early stage, it is becoming harder for services to differentiate themselves. Features such as HD streaming and multi-device support may have been enticing in the past, but they are now expected to be standard. Thus, the competing services have three primary competitive levers: price, content and convenience.

It is a safe assumption that a price war in a business that relies on volume rather than margin is a race to the bottom and best avoided unless one has deep pockets and a propensity to ignore commercial common sense. Inevitably, pure-play OTT services will converge around a similar price point or be ‘free’ as part of triple or quad play offerings.

Content, is of course, the weapon of choice in this fight. And here again, it is easy to default to the lowest common denominator: Hollywood. Yes, Hollywood content can serve well as a glamorous window display with big brand-name actors and titles, but its ability to sustain high growth in subscriber numbers in the Middle East is, in my opinion, doubtful for a variety of reasons.

One reason is the lack of scarcity. There is no shortage of Hollywood content on free-to-air channels. Beyond blockbuster movies, viewership levels are not as impressive as they used to be. US drama series and sitcoms, in particular, do not appeal to a wide segment of the population in the Middle East markets that matter commercially.

Another reason is the windowing structure imposed by the studios, which results in a very delayed arrival of titles onto the OTT platforms. This model is out of step with market realities, but changing it is not always easy, due to the need to protect the US market or other international distribution commitments. Thus, ardent fans of a particular title will watch it in the pay-window or download it illegally shortly after its US broadcast. For everyone else, the content is free on FTA channels.

Television ratings indicate drama is the most popular genre, and time and time again, consumer surveys show that Arabic is, by far, the preferred language for drama series to be watched in. Although dubbing might work for a Turkish series because the locations and actors don’t seem too distant, dubbing becomes much less convincing when the characters and settings are obviously foreign.

We come to the unsurprising conclusion that Arabic drama content is key to success. Even more alluring would be an OTT player’s ability to offer original content outside the Ramadan window. But simply taking a page from the book of Netflix and producing original content in sufficient volume to convince people to part with their money is not viable for all players. It takes significant production and marketing budgets to produce and promote content that appeals to the various markets within the Middle East.

Relying purely on library content is not a convincing offering for Middle East consumers. Licensing a first (Ramadan) or second (post-Ramadan) run of an Arabic drama series would allow OTT players to play their other trump card: binge viewing convenience.

An OTT player offering all 30 episodes of a drama on day one of Ramadan would create a new viewing experience for viewers. Similarly, offering exclusive Arabic dramas for binge viewing immediately after Ramadan would free viewers from the shackles of TV schedules. Since it is customary for licensors of first and second windows of Arabic drama to be granted a multi-year third run (library) window, an OTT player would still be able to maintain a broad long-tail offering.

The OTT player that can offer a large selection of exclusive first- and second-run Arabic series on multiple platforms, available from the first day of Ramadan or the post-Ramadan window for binge viewing, would certainly have a tempting proposition for subscribers in the Middle East.

This post first appeared in BroadcastPro magazine here.

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Categories: content Tags: ,

Contribute, don’t regurgitate.

September 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Imagine you are in a coffee shop full of people who may or may not know you. There is a rack stocked with very well-known newspapers and magazines. Every few minutes, you grab one of these titles, pick a headline, and read it out aloud so that everyone in the coffee shop can hear you.

What do you think the people in the coffee shop will do after about 10 minutes? My guess is the ones not interested will leave while the others will start picking out their own stories from the magazine rack.

Odd behavior isn’t it? You would never do this in real life would you? I am sure not. So why do people do this on Twitter and Facebook all the time? Pick any general subject (e.g. Tech) and look at your twitter feed. Almost everyone will be retweeting from the same four or five well-known sources. Some people seem to spend their entire day retweeting from a few sources. They don’t add an opinion or a perspective or a personal experience. This is akin to the person randomly shouting in the coffee shop. These people are usually the same ones who announce how many followers they gained or lost, or the ones who let everyone know their Klout score. They seem more interested in building a following than actually benefitting their followers.

There is an implicit contract between you (as a person or a brand) and your followers on social media platforms. They are giving you their attention, but in return expect to obtain interesting and relevant information from you. There are scenarios where retweeting/linking is useful: to curate for a specific subject from relatively unknown sources, or to broadcast regional stories to followers in another part of the world, or to highlight original contributions from other members of your network. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and your follower’s time.

So next time you want to retweet or link to a story as-is from a very well-known source, think twice and evaluate whether you can add context or perspective that will make it valuable.

The Media-with-Meaning Manifesto

January 24, 2011 3 comments

Arab media: a powerful tool that has a positive impact on millions or an amplifier of our imperfections that drowns out our successes? Discuss.

It does feel sometimes that Arab media (broadcast or printed or streamed) is missing an opportunity to shift away from biased political reporting, from accentuating the negatives, from providing a platform for anger and fundamentalism, and from feeding the flames of intolerance. We are missing an opportunity to connect with a young population, to highlight the role of women, to recognise entrepreneurs, to reconcile differences, to give a voice to the unheard, to encourage artists, to celebrate achievements and to build bridges.

If you could reshape your media, what would it look like? What would it say? What would you feel after experiencing it? What principles would it adhere to? What would the Media-with-Meaning Manifesto’s principles be? Here are a few for a starter:

– Entertain with meaning

– Inform without bias

– Debate with a positive passion

– Create role models

– Respect the old

– Encourage the new

– Highlight achievement

– Arouse curiosity

– Celebrate entrepreneurship

– Build on ambition

– Provide answers

– Learn from failure

Create  your own list. Develop ideas around it. Bring them to the masses. Let’s have a creative revolution!

Categories: content

The Premier League and the Joy of Statistics

August 2, 2010 2 comments

A strange thing is happening at ADTV. For the first time, we are able to actually count the number of our customers. We recently launched our Premier League pay-tv offering and can now, in real time, all sorts of data: the number of subscribers, their location, the number of decoders in each market, the number of calls to the call centre, the average call answer times etc. We can react instantly and alter allocations of resources and manpower as the situation changes on the ground. This is so refreshing.

To most people in developed markets, remarking about this may seem trivial. As broadcasters, we have been numbed by years of late viewership data (6 weeks late, at times), incompatible research methodologies and limited market information. We routinely make assumptions that drive million dollar investments and set sales targets based on a loose mix of statistics and black magic. The internet changes that a little, but until broadband penetration reaches saturation levels, the internet will not provide the answer.

I can see why it would frighten some people. Waking up every day to a precise sheet of data that lets you know if your programming or media allocation decisions from the night before were right would be a scary thing. But it would be challenging and it would most certainly lead to a better product and a better marketing plan.

Media and Telecom, convergence?

August 2, 2010 Leave a comment

I went to a conference recently that was meant to focus on the intersection of media and telecoms. The list of speakers was full of A-list names from the top of telecom organisations so I was looking forward to it. After a coupe of hours of listening though, it was very clear that the conference should have added a question mark at the end of its title. The so-called “convergence” was not apparent. Telcos spoke their own language, which few media people could relate to. The elephant in the room was the fine line separating a telco from becoming a broadcaster or a “dumb” pipe and neither side was comfortable with either scenario. We still have a long way to go to understand each other’s priorities and drivers.

Categories: content, Technology Tags: ,

Wired iPad App

May 31, 2010 1 comment

Yesterday I tried the first Wired magazine app on my iPad. It was a brilliant reading experience that offers a promise of what magazines could morph into. When I handed the iPad to a friend he immediately had that characteristic grin that accompanies the sensation of a new experience.  It may or may not represent the definitive future of the magazine format, but I wanted to find out what others had thought. A quick look online revealed that the app’s first day was immensely successful with around 24,000 downloads. However, there was also a strong wave of opposition, mainly centered around the resemblance of the app to the multimedia cd-roms of the 90s. Who cares!? If it is a joy to use, feels good to read, and satisfies any number of people, then it is a positive outcome. Digital natives may not care that the
app generates a tactile feel similar to a print magazine, but then again they may enjoy it because of the interface and the richness of the content. Then again they may reject it as cumbersome when compared to a quick in and out of a googled wired article on the web. Irrelevant. What matters is that the experiments have begun. Editors and journalists are all toying with new forms and styles and technologies in the search for that elusive successful digital transition rather than just bemoaning the decline of their print business.

Categories: content, Technology Tags: , ,

Volcanic Connections

April 24, 2010 Leave a comment

After spending four days at MIPTV 2010, a volcano in Iceland with a tongue-twisting name has inevitably become the most dominant thought in the minds of the 11,000+ delegates. Most of them probably accompanied thoughts of volcanos with four letter expletives, yet the Icelandic eruptions have further reenforced how connected we, and our world, have become.

Borders are increasingly meaningless. A single volcano, helped by jet streams and wind directions, disabled not only aircraft but the flow of daily life for millions of people in tens of countries. Our economic connections are deeply rooted and transcend geographic borders or pre-conceived ideas of national boundaries.

Technological connections are increasingly personal. My trek back home took more than 24 hours across three countries, but I was never alone. My smartphone kept me connected like never before. While I did make some voice calls, the connections were mostly forged through access to various groups of friends, colleagues, and complete strangers. I was interacting with my friends on Facebook, being helped by colleagues back in the office over Messenger, taking advice from strangers over Twitter, and finding out about the plight of countless others through the comments on news sites. Sure I used my phone to check the status of airports, find flights, reserve taxis and book hotels, but the ability to stay connected to friends, family and colleagues was by far the most powerful of its capabilities.