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Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

AlJazeera and ADM: Life after the Premier League Rights Saga

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The saga of the renewal of the Premier League television rights recently culminated with their award to Al Jazeera on an exclusive basis. As usual, the price paid has not been announced. Given the nature of the auction process and judging by its extended duration, it would probably be safe to assume the final amount is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

If there is one thing that everyone agrees on, it is that the process took far too long. The result was announced roughly a month before the scheduled start of the 2013 season, leaving fans and subscribers confused as to how and where they will be able to watch the games. That the PL allowed the process to drag on for so long must imply that they reaped a financial benefit above and beyond what they would have gained by accepting the initial bids. Nevertheless, the proceedings did not help the reputation of the sports rights sales processes in MENA, which are in general quite ambiguous in nature.

Unless Al Jazeera has been quietly preparing for winning the PL rights, the short duration until the season’s kick-off leaves them with a considerable challenge. Undoubtedly, Al Jazeera will provide a high standard of coverage with a star line-up of pundits, presenters and commentators. If, as has been speculated, the PL has mandated that cards be paired with decoders, Al Jazeera has a limited amount of time to make sufficient decoders available in the market. Ironically, ADM’s decoders are compatible with Al Jazeera cards, but pairing will require the cooperation of ADM, which may be difficult to secure. There is a marketing challenge in defining and communicating pricing, availability and technical requirements to potential subscribers. Finally, there is a customer service challenge in signing up a significant number of new subscribers within a short period of time. The coming weeks will confirm whether Al Jazeera is able to meet these various challenges.

The exclusivity of the PL rights as awarded to Al Jazeera firmly answered the question of cooperation among MENA rights holders. Many speculated that ADM and Al Jazeera had drawn a line in the sand in the face of ever escalating rights costs. Indeed, had this scenario played out, it would have set the tone for a reduction in future sports rights values in the region. As it stands, future rights costs may rise sharply if ADM attempts to replace the PL rights with Spanish, Italian or UEFA rights as they come up for renewal in the coming years.

As many have commented, the costs of sports rights in the region are not commercially viable. Although I do agree, neither Al Jazeera nor ADM are naïve enough to think that they are purchasing assets to generate a financial return over a three-year period. Each has his own strategy and perspective and, in both cases, my guess is their reasoning extends beyond the commercial constraints of regional pay-tv.

Some have been critical of the rights owners for embarking on strategies that promote price hikes. I would agree that constant shifting between platforms is not conducive to long-term subscriber growth, but in the end sports rights are worth whatever someone is willing to pay for them. Incidentally, rapidly escalating costs for sports rights are not unique to the MENA region. The primary difference is that in most other markets, the bidders are driven by a commercial objective and operate within a market with sufficient scale to justify the costs.

For ADM, it must now of course determine the fate of its platform, which has hundreds of thousands of subscribers and represents a significant multi-million dollar investment. Most subscriptions will likely be expiring between August and December and ADM needs to offer its existing subscribers a viable alternative. It can of course shut down the platform and cut its losses, thus leaving Al Jazeera as the only viable buyer of international football rights in the region. Alternatively, ADM may elect to expand its HD entertainment offering to retain subscribers and gain new ones. Another possible scenario is for ADM to wait until major football and sports rights come up for renewal and attempt to acquire them. Each of these scenarios will have a significant impact on the pay-tv market in the region.

What next for Al Jazeera? Typically, pay-tv operators use sports rights to attract subscribers to a larger bouquet of entertainment channels with the aim of maximising revenues. So far for Al Jazeera, sports rights have been an end in and of themselves. After securing the rights for every major football tournament, will they focus on local football league rights? Or will they cast a wider net and seek to expand into entertainment? It would be an opportunity to create a compelling and complete pay-tv portfolio to entice a larger number of consumers at a lower subscription price point that Al Jazeera is clearly comfortable with. In comparison to the costs of sports rights, movie and entertainment channel rights in the region are a “bargain”!

(This post appeared in BroadcastPro Middle East.)

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In Search of A Sustainable Business Model

April 12, 2012 3 comments

(This is a copy of an article written for BroadcastPro)

On the surface, the free-to-air television sector in the Middle East is thriving. Viewing time is one of the highest in the world. Even in the turbulent political environment of 2011, research indicates that the advertising market has continued to grow. Hundreds of channels exist yet satellite operators can’t keep up with demand and continue to launch new satellites. International players such as Newscorp and Turner have made investments in Middle East media. The region’s population is growing rapidly and is very young by global standards, thus making it attractive for advertisers. The large number of broadcasters supports an eco-system of profitable entities ranging from international and regional production houses to infrastructure providers and media professionals.

In reality, a minuscule number of broadcasters are profitable. Ad figures are inflated by rate card monitoring that does not take into account regular heavy discounting. On a net basis, ad spend per capita is lower than global benchmarks. In the absence of a single regulatory body with authority over the many countries in the region, the advertising and broadcasting sectors are practically unregulated. In advertising, this has led to aggressive but not always transparent sales practices. In broadcasting, the lack of regulation has led to large discrepancies in the quality of content. Audience measurement is either non-existent or relies on antiquated methodologies.

The rapid development of satellite Direct-to-Home distribution, while a necessity in the past to avoid strict government control of the television sector, has come at a cost. Broadcasters and advertisers cannot target individual markets and therefore larger countries tend to get the lion’s share of television spend while local TV advertising budgets are diverted to newspapers.
Despite the lack of profits, new channels continue to launch, at times as misguided commercial ventures but mostly in pursuit of non-commercial goals. This is fine in a normal free market scenario, but with the lack of audience measurement and no regulation of the claims channels can make or how their advertising inventory is sold, the market becomes distorted. Its overall value is diminished as too many players are left chasing an undervalued advertising spend.

There is no short term solution or quick fix for the various issues afflicting the TV sector in the Middle East. Many are regulatory and related to the multi-country footprint of the sector and therefore cannot be easily resolved. Ultimately, the current key players in the Middle East’s television industry including broadcasters, advertisers, media buyers and sales representatives, are best positioned to improve its prospects by taking pragmatic steps to increase revenues, reduce costs, and support transparency.

Key actions include:

All parties should support the introduction of audience measurement tools. The UAE is the only major Middle East market that is close to launching people meters.

Broadcasters can increase their revenues if they work closely with advertisers. The evolved advertisers need to expand their arsenal beyond the 30-second spot to cut through the clutter. Yet currently the content development process at broadcasters barely involves their ultimate clients. If more budgets are to be allocated to TV, broadcasters must reach out to advertisers and seek to develop content that entertains audiences while integrating brands in a seamless non-intrusive manner.

Broadcasters should begin to shift their mindset to that of content owners and capitalise on new platforms to increase revenues: IPTV platforms are emerging in Saudi and other countries. OTT is a nascent but promising sector. Satellite operators are considering spot beams. YouTube viewing on mobile is one of the highest in the world. Broadband penetration is growing rapidly in key markets. All these platforms provide opportunities for content owners to create more relevant localised content, extend television brands onto the web and mobile, generate syndication and licensing revenues, or explore new advertising mechanisms.

Broadcasters can reduce content costs by sharing productions across markets or acquiring rights for smaller geographic territories. The pan-Arab channel is a convenient myth and very few channels can be both popular with audiences across all countries and be able to generate revenues from those countries.

Advertisers too must play a role in rewarding broadcasters that create premium content with verified audiences. In too many instances, the short term focus on reducing spot rates has led to a negative ripple effect across the advertising value chain.
The TV sector in the Middle East must repair its business model if it wants to sustain itself in the long term and attract investment on a commercially viable basis. Eventually, internal voluntary reform, if not exercised, will be replaced by externally imposed regulatory reform.

Is broadcast media in the Middle East doomed?

April 30, 2010 4 comments

Every time I attend MIPTV or MIPCOM, I am enthused by the dynamic nature of our industry around the world. Every “constant” is changing at the same time: audience behaviour, business models, media consumption habits, viewing technology. This is a time of great disruption but great opportunity and is very exciting.

Then I return to the Middle East, and it feels like we are dinosaurs happily going about our daily grazing while oblivious of the approaching asteroid. We are still debating twentieth century concepts while the world has surged past us. We don’t have a real understanding of our audience due to a lack of the most basic measurement tools. Our business model is broken and means no media company would exist today if it hadn’t been supported by a government or a wealthy individual. We have a huge mobile base, yet all we seem to do with it is generate tons of profits for telcos from good old voice and sms sending. Satellites are a boon to cheap distribution but at the same time dilute the boundaries of individual cultures and oversimplify content development. Producers are too busy sticking to the tried and tested 30 episode Ramadan cash cow. The web and mobile are still seen as “novelties” while other markets have placed them at the heart of their business strategies. We are losing the connection to the vast majority of our young population as their attention fragments either to politics (where else do news channels feature so prominently in the viewer psyche?), corners of the web or chatting to break away from their daily monotony. There is innovation, but in pockets not proportional in size to the population numbers and unsupported by a healthy eco-system of financial backers or business support systems.

How to change this before it is too late?

Apps Apps Apps, but not in our neighbourhood?

April 24, 2010 Leave a comment

There was a strong focus in MIPTV on mobile applications. Undoubtedly, the launch of the iPad is causing a stir with reactions ranging from the enthusiastic (everyone is announcing an App for iPad) to the fanatical (the iPad will be the saviour of [fill in the blanks]). The Middle East should be an ideal ground for new applications to be created and downloaded given the young population and the relatively high 3G penetration in some markets. However, the region is drastically lagging behind the world.

We don’t have the “sexy” platforms. The iPhone and its accompanying App Store have been the primary catalysts of application development. The iPad is ushering in a second wave of development while Google’s Android is leading an Open Source attempt to “liberate” applications from Apple’s devices. However, in the Middle East, our smart phones are dominated by Nokias and Blackberries. The former has had little success with its Ovi store while the latter, by most accounts, is very cumbersome to develop for. Neither has the region developed a proprietary environment for applications and services as happened in Japan. Although iPhones and Androids will continue to increase their market share, they are too expensive to achieve the same level of penetration as in other markets where operators subsidise the handsets. Finally, even if someone develops an application, they will find it hard to find customers who have the payment methods to enable them to generate revenues from their product since credit and debit cards are not as widely adopted for online payment as in other markets.

All this leaves us at risk of being mobile “have nots” with powerful phones being bought but nothing local to run on them. Changing this requires a concerted push from operators to encourage the creation of applications, the lowering or subsidising the handset costs, and the opening of mobile billing systems.