During a panel at DISCOP Dubai entitled Spotlight on the Middle East: The Staying Power of Linear Television in a Fast-Evolving Digital World, panelists focused on major issues affecting the television industry: changing viewing habits and business models, and the need for cooperation and regulation in the region.
The panelists were: Martin Stewart, the CEO of OSN (UAE); Manoj Mathew, the chief operating officer of Zee Entertainment (India) and Sanjay Raina, the senior VP and general manager of Fox Networks Group (UAE). The session was moderated by Nick Grande, the managing director of ChannelSculptor, based in Dubai.
As with platforms in other regions, the ones in MENA must find ways of delivering content directly to the consumer. OSN’s Stewart stated, “OTT will be the majority of our business in a very short time.” OSN has already launched its own online TV service, Wavo, and recently closed a deal with Netflix. OSN will be offering its premium subscribers Netflix free for a period of time, initially through app delivery and by June of this year through a new set-top box OSN is launching that will have Netflix embedded in the box.
Stewart added that if it’s true that content remains king, then distribution nowadays is King Kong, pointing out that it is incumbent on platforms to reach consumers wherever they are.
Zee’s Mathew noted that because of the increase in ways of consuming content, “It’s not a good time for linear channels, but a brilliant time for content.” He added that platforms must make the critical decision, “Are we platforms? Are content creators, or are we content aggregators?”
Fox Networks Group’s Raina countered that since March 2016, the company has launched eight channels in the MENA region, and they are all performing well. “Clearly someone is watching and linear is working.”
He also said viewers like being in charge of their remote controls rather than having data driving viewership, as algorithms do on streaming services.
Panelists agreed that as platforms offer streaming services, they will have to deal with declining price points and find ways of making up lost revenues, as monthly subscription fees could drop from an average of about $60 a month for a package of channels to $10 for an OTT subscription.
Another common theme was the importance of exclusive content, whether it be for free-to-air channels or pay services. Zee’s Mathew noted, “We are chasing subscribers or advertisers, so either way we need content.”
There was also agreement on the untapped creative potential in the region and the importance of original content and ownership of IP, as opposed to licensing product, which a platform or linear channel eventually has to give back to the rights holders.
The panelists acknowledged the problem of piracy in the region as well. On this point, they called for greater collaboration among all players in the region and the need for a proper regulatory framework for development of the media industry in MENA.