OSN’s Patrick Tillieux


In 2009, Orbit and Showtime Arabia, adapting to market forces, merged to form OSN. The transaction created the Middle East’s largest pay-TV platform, delivering a wide slate of international channels, movies, sports and local content to subscribers across the region. As it marks its tenth anniversary, OSN continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of the market. It has launched a standalone OTT service, WAVO, alongside its own TV Everywhere service, OSN Play. Under new CEO Patrick Tillieux—who has extensive experience working in pay and free TV in Europe, including at ProSiebenSat.1, Canal+ and SBS Broadcasting—OSN has also refocused its sports strategy, shifting that investment to other areas, notably movies and entertainment. Tillieux tells World Screen about the opportunities and challenges facing OSN today.

WS: It’s been ten years since OSN’s formation. Coming into the role, what did you identify as the company’s key strengths?
TILLIEUX: Yes, ten years since the merger. And I would go further than that—it’s 25 years of Orbit and [23 years of] Showtime. So I saw a company with a long tradition. For the region, and media in general, 25 years is a respectable age! For the region, it is quite [an achievement]. This is a com­pany that has built a lot of trust with its subscribers. At the same time, it is a company that is very traditional in its approach. So the challenge for OSN—and I think we are doing well on this front—is the transformation to a company of today. One that is not only offering direct-to-home services, as it has traditionally done, but also direct-to-consumer via streaming services, which we do now through WAVO.

WS: How is WAVO doing?
TILLIEUX: Since its relaunch this year in April, I must say we have a thriving service. We have a new [technology] platform. I’m very pleased with the success so far. And now we are gearing up for the second stage in the development of WAVOwith a full slate of content that is truly amazing and almost unique in the world with [the breadth of] its offering.

WS: One of the first announcements you made after becoming CEO was to scale back the sports lineup. Tell us about the shift in your sports strategy.
TILLIEUX: It’s relatively simple. Sports rights are, unfortunately, very expensive. And we were not able to get all the sports rights that we wished for. So we were subpar in our approach to sports. It was not our key driver, and we were not good enough in sports. So instead we said, Let’s forget the things we will never be able to be the number one at. Let’s concentrate on other segments in the market where can be number one, or already are number one. For the health of the company as a whole, I had to make this tough decision to abandon sports and concentrate on things that we do best.

WS: Movies have always been a key driver on pay TV. Do they continue to do well for OSN?
TILLIEUX: They do. But we have a large array, not only movies. We have series, general entertainment; we are also excellent in kids’ fare. And since taking over, I’ve been pushing a lot of women-oriented programming, lifestyle, fashion, things like that. That’s proving very popular right now.

WS: Is most of your lineup acquired from the global market?
TILLIEUX: We are still at the stage where a large majority is acquired. But we are slowly tapping into the local market and producing local content, especially in the food segment, which is very big locally. We will continue to grow and invest in that segment.

WS: And you’re also investing in Arabic-language drama?
TILLIEUX: Everybody is creating originals. We are looking into this. We have been a bit shy of entering into the originals sphere ourselves. We’re more into acquiring productions and airing them and not keeping the IPs. But gradually we are developing skills in the sphere of originals as well. You will soon see originals on OSN.

WS: What steps are you taking to improve customer service and technology to deliver a better experience for your subscribers?
TILLIEUX: This is very important. One of the good things about being in the direct-to-home business for so long is we have developed over the years all these tools for how to communicate with our subscribers, how to use the data that we have from our subscribers to better ourselves, to make sure we can address their needs in the best way. We continue to exploit this data for our own services to make sure we can enrich the experience of our subscribers. And obviously the knowhow, the expertise we have developed in direct-to-home, we can now apply to streaming services as well. As time goes by, we’re seeing content and technology coming together. It’s an interesting thing to develop.

WS: I’m curious if there are substantial differences between running a media organization in the Middle East versus one in Europe?
TILLIEUX: On the surface, we could be compared to Sky in the U.K. I think it’s much more complicated than that. The local dimension is key to the success of television in general, and pay television in particular. For us at OSN, we truly believe that the local dimension is key in our development. I take pride in the fact that I run a business with 49 different nationalities inside the company. That is very helpful in trying to understand what makes the subscribers tick in all the different countries where we are present. We have a mix of Egyptians, Saudis, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, Kuwaitis—that’s powerful.

WS: What are your key growth initiatives over the next 12 to 18 months?
TILLIEUX: The key priority is developing our streaming service to make it truly the best in the region. You have to keep in mind that the direct-to-consumer businesses of the big Hollywood studios will take a while before they come over here in the region. We have a few years ahead of us. We do have the exclusive rights [to Hollywood content]. Actually, when you look at WAVOtoday, we are almost a combination of Disney+, Peacock and HBO Max. That adds up to an incredible service for the subscriber. Our difficulty is how we make it known that our content is unique for the subscriber. That’s our biggest challenge—making known how rich our service actually is.

WS: That’s likely the challenge for everyone in this space, including the big Hollywood services. I’m debating which ones I want to sign up for here in the U.S.!
TILLIEUX: Exactly! Unfortunately, you don’t live in the region, because otherwise, I would have a very simple answer for you: Subscribe to OSN or WAVO! [Laughs]