A White Paper from Comcast Technology Solutions, released ahead of Dubai’s CabSat, says that the MENA region offers “a thriving and dynamic market in which to operate for content, streaming providers, and distributors”.
But the broadcast market cannot stand still, warns the study. It quotes Luis Duran, the former CCO at MBC’s Shahid and now GM at HBO Max LatAm, saying: “The types of programmes that have been produced in this region for the last 30–40 years have been mainly conservative or traditional dramas. Some viewers have indicated a desire for more edgy or modern content. Some players are adopting and launching originals that are far from what has been traditionally produced. It is where demand is, and this new wave of content is what consumers want.”
The study says that every major TV or OTT service provider is investing in local Arabic originals as well as content distribution deals to grow their library and have points of differentiation.
It cites examples such as STARZPLAY which secured $25 million for originals, and that Dubai’s pay-TV platform OSN is doubling originals to 40 percent of its streaming content by the end of 2021, and streaming platforms such as SHAHID and Jawwy are making significant subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) first-run originals. The historical source of Egyptian programming distributed across the region is moving to WATCH iT!, a new platform run by the Egyptian government and resulting in a content gap for other TV and OTT services.
The existing statistics remain impressive, says Comcast. “An Arabic originals boom of +383 per cent growth happened in 2020 within Saudi Arabia, a key focal market after an over 35-year absence in entertainment. Saudi Arabia is expected to make further investments as part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 to support the film industry.”
“Viewing on mobile devices remains a huge portion of the market, but social-distancing restrictions and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic drove massive growth in smart TV consumption,” says Comcast. “Prior to 2020, smart TV viewing accounted for less than 20 per cent of streaming content consumption. At the peak of COVID lockdowns, smart TV viewership skyrocketed to as much as 70 per cent of total consumption. The beginning of 2021 saw smart TV streaming still exceeding mobile, but closer to a 50/50 split. Local Arabic programmes being released as first-run originals were fuelling binge-streaming.”
Comcast, however, cautions that there is still some way to go. For example, payments for OTT content must be made easier. “The ability to execute in the MENA region and have integration with partnerships needs to become smoother; from payments, reselling, hard bundles, and being able to clearly communicate consumer-led benefits to the right audience in the right market at the right price point and with the correctly identified available content specific to the location. Integrations may appear easy, however, the consumer journey to signing up, signing in, and playing content is where improvement is needed. Bundled services should have a one-step authentication process, not five steps,” adds Duran.