Live from IBC’s Content Everywhere: MENA broadcasters talk second screen apps

IBC’s Content Everywhere has featured leading execs from some of MENA’s largest TV organisations talking about a future where the debate over old media vs. new media becomes a thing of the past. “Content everywhere is not a question anymore, it is a must,” said Abdul Hadi Al Sheikh, executive director of television, Abu Dhabi Media. “In the last few years it has become a normal behavior and practice for every user and viewer.”

Abu Dhabi Media has an audience of more than 12 million people and Al Sheikh said that the social media push allows the service to become a 360-degree part of the community, covering it from all angles and at all times.

“It increases engagement and expands our reach and interaction with the consumer,” he explained. “And for us an important and key factor is to focus on content.”

Sam Barnett, CEO of MBC Group, offered his take on how broadcast TV is faring in the Middle East. He has helped the Group grow from a single TV channel and single radio channel to one that has 20 channels and controls an audience share of 45% in the region (approximately 120 million people). All of that growth transpired after the company moved from London to Dubai’s Media City in 2002.

“Audience measurement is not perfect but media metrics show that viewers across the Middle East watch TV on average four hours and 39 minutes a day,” said Barnett. “And we’re certainly not seeing TV viewership coming down.”

Barnett added that TV in the Middle East is in the midst of a content renaissance. In 2007 much of the content that topped the ratings was international content. But today there is no western content in the top 20 and last year more than 130 different dramas were produced in the MENA region.

“And here the population is young so if we are getting audiences it is because we are attracting young people,” he explained.

And it may be counter-intuitive but the ratings success flies in the face of a country like Saudi Arabia where the largest amount of YouTube content is watched on a per-capita basis and Twitter penetration and activity are larger than anywhere else.

“We have good relationships with YouTube and we will put on clips [to promote TV programs,” said Barnett.

As for sports, Barnett added that the network is looking to take the production of Saudia Arabian football to the next level.

Khalifa Al Shamsi, Etisalat, chief digital services officer, says that IPTV penetration in the UAE is 50%, a percentage that most likely eclipses all other countries where traditional cable and satellite (or broadcast) still dominate.

“The main aim is not to compete with our broadcast partners but to offer a platform bundled with different services like a smart-home solution,” said Al Shamsi.

David Butorac, CEO of UAE pay TV operator OSN, said a hybrid mix of delivery that involves at least some satellite, which is more efficient in terms of delivering broadcast signals, and IPTV, that allows for narrowcasting will always exist.

One thing he hopes will not always exist is priacy, an issue that continues to be a significant issue for broadcasters throughout MENA. Dealing with things like BitTorrent is one thing but other companies, like You Tube, should do more to protect copyright holders.

“They can block pornography and they should be able to block Hollywood movies,” he said. “Intellectual property owners want them to take action and they are slowly waking to the damage. But it is pie-in-the-sky to think that someone will spend $120 million to produce a show and not get a return on the investment.”

Another piracy issue is the use of illegal set-top boxes that cut into pay TV revenues and rating. It is believed that up to 1 million illegal set-top boxes are in the market.

Al Shamsi adds that part of the solution to piracy is educating consumers about the negative effects of piracy.

“The industry needs to educate the end user that piracy is not legal,” he says. “People are hungry for content and they will make it available their own way.”

Dr. Raed Khusheim, CEO of Selevision, said that piracy is the enemy of anyone regardless of who is broadcasting.

“in our opinion some reasons behind piracy,” said Dr. Khusheim. Two factors include the price but also the windows as sometimes it will be months between a movie being available in MENA after availability elsewhere around the globe.

“I’m not convinced it is about windows or is nuanced,” said Barnett. “In the old days it was about burned DVDs. The piracy that really hit us was when a TV channel bought the DVD and then openly played it out via free-to-air satellite to 300 million people.”

Botorac said the real solution involves the Hollywood studios and regulators getting involved to force legal action to end the illegal broadcast of movies.

“We are frustrated the studios have done nothing,” he added.

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