How MENA broadcasters can boost reach and revenue in 2018


How MENA broadcasters can boost reach and revenue in 2018

The broadcast industry is both an exciting and an unsettling place to be. From future-proofing equipment to monetising content, CABSAT 2018 promises a unique blend of the creative and the pragmatic.

​The television market in the Middle East and Africa has been in an unprecedented state of flux of late, with political and cultural changes driving it into an even bigger spin. Perhaps one analogy to describe this scenario is that of a Rubik’s Cube, with pieces being turned and readjusted continuously. While there is some progress, the colours haven’t fallen into place just yet.

To continue that analogy, different colours represent the various changes taking place within broadcast, at different velocities. We have seen an exponential rise in the uptake of over-the-top (OTT) content and streaming services, which received a significant boost when Netflix entered the market. The launch of beIN Media Group’s entertainment bouquet two years ago unnerved some of the other existing broadcast players, as it signalled the start of a new world order. Prices for paid content were being reduced for the first time, although subscriptions have continued to remain low in a region where free-to-air rules, with its 800-plus channels.
The MENA content market has seen a spike, with more regional films making their mark internationally, compounded by last month’s historic announcement that Saudi Arabia is lifting its ban on theatres.
On a global level, broadcast technologies have transformed rapidly over the last few years with the advent of IT-based solutions, the rise of IP connectivity, the evolution of software-defined technologies, and the operational efficiencies and cost benefits of working in the cloud.
The TV industry has had to come to terms with several seismic shifts over the last couple of years: linear television is no longer the sole or primary means of watching entertainment amid a growing generation of cord-nevers; pay-TV is no longer the privilege of an elite few; content will be consumed increasingly on smaller devices, rather than on a big screen at home; and viewers have morphed from passive consumers of content to a demanding audience that want to view their content anytime, anywhere, on any device.

OTT on the rise

While these changes may have briefly shaken traditional broadcasters, who have lived and breathed a linear world order for decades, some of the dust is likely to settle in 2018 as IP technologies mature and enable them to reach out to their audiences in more ways, as well as to streamline workflows and achieve operational efficiencies.
There is no doubt, for instance, that OTT will gain traction in the coming years. According to a recent report by Vidya Nath, Director of Digital Media, Global Innovation Center (GIC) at Frost & Sullivan, “By 2020, at least 40 per cent of all video viewed will be over broadband-connected platforms. These platforms include individual OTT services or converged pay-TV and OTT services.”
The analyst goes on to say that the MENA OTT market has around 75 million active viewers and is estimated to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of at least 38 per cent in viewers and to $775m in revenue by 2021.
“With a higher positive impact of better macroeconomic conditions, agility in driving broadband penetration, better digital advertising rates and more paid subscriptions, the region has the potential to grow 1.5x in viewership base and 2.5x in revenue,” she says.
That’s a mouthful, but the above conditions call for making more informed choices in terms of technical infrastructure, and realigning business models to suit changing consumer demands.
MBC’s, which launched as early as 2011, is already ahead of the pack on this front and averages 10 million unique visitors each month. OSN revamped its OTT offering last year and replaced Go with Wavo. More recently, it launched ASLI, a curated platform for licensed content. Zee Entertainment launched Weyyak in May 2017, with its USP being Bollywood content dubbed into Arabic as well as original Arabic content. Since October last year, the platform has had one million unique users every month, claims Nadine Samra, VP Digital Business Middle East and Africa for Zee Entertainment.
Saudi Broadcasting Corporation unveiled its OTT platform last year, as did Al Majd TV. These are some of the more high-profile OTT launches from traditional players in the region, competing with SVOD services like Netflix, StarzPlay, iflix, Vuclip and icflix. MENA’s OTT viewership, however, continues to be largely driven by YouTube, which includes the online channels of several TV stations.

The threat of FAANG

As if this change were not big enough, both sets of players now see a bigger and more dangerous threat infiltrating our space in the guise of FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google). At a CEO panel discussion held recently at the ASBU BroadcastPro Selevision Summit in Dubai, regional broadcasters noted that if they did not collaborate and ramp up their technical efforts, they would be elbowed out by FAANG coming in with a seamless user experience, accurate viewer profiling and better global distribution muscle, which enables them to offer cheaper services that regional operators cannot match in terms of reach or price.
Christophe Firth, Principal at AT Kearney Middle East, clarifies: “Content will remain king in the video-centric OTT world, but it is joined in the castle by three others: user experience, brand positioning and commercial excellence. The proposition to consumers must be built around these four factors, and supported by a new internal operating structure and capabilities. Early movers will have an advantage, and the MENA market is still open with no player yet making this play.”
The one place where we will see various slices of this action play out is at CABSAT, where many of the major stakeholders will come together to discuss the challenges they face, the solutions they are looking at, and how they intend to take those forward. Alongside, we will see a big chunk of the action on the exhibition floor, with technology playing a crucial role in enabling end-users to make the transition to a business model that enables content distribution across multiple platforms – and the monetisation of those assets.

Content is king Title 3

One of the great challenges is the exponential rate at which content is consumed and produced. The graphic below, for instance, gives a rough idea of how much data was generated globally within a span of just 60 seconds in 2017. Within broadcast, the implications are huge when we think of HD and 4K data, and the sheer volume at which content is generated.
Juggling and transporting bandwidth-hungry video data for multiple platforms from linear to OTT and VOD in different formats, in addition to scaling up as required with the flexibility to move seamlessly between different platforms with low latency, has become paramount to the survival of any broadcaster. SDI and hardware infrastructure – the hallmarks of a traditional broadcast facility – simply can’t keep up. IP, software-based solutions, cloud services, the micoservices approach and similar IT-based solutions have brought numerous benefits, and have enabled broadcasters to deploy new successful business models within weeks, not years.
IP uptake, however, has been slow and piecemeal at most broadcast facilities, on account of the steep learning curve, the investment and the integration with legacy infrastructure involved, and the need to change one’s mindset. Almost all broadcasters have adopted a hybrid approach that accommodates both IP and SDI models, with the intention of stretching their ROI on old hardware while gradually educating their engineering teams. The adoption of IP is interconnected with a lot of other new technologies that can have an equally positive impact on operations, but again, they require significant learning and skill upgrades on the part of engineers, and radical changes to organisational infrastructure.
More importantly, all parts of the chain were not as stable as they are today right from the source. Peter Van Dam, a strong IP advocate and Advisor to the CEO’s Office for Live HD, Abu Dhabi Media, says last year was the first time he saw more mature and reliable IP offerings from manufacturers that would make deployments more comfortable. At CABSAT this year, companies exhibiting in the broadcast segment of the exhibition will have significant IP offerings – in some cases, glass to glass, and in other cases, parts of the chain.
IABM will also be hosting an IP Theatre at CABSAT, which will begin with Abu Dhabi Media and OSN sharing their technology roadmap. As part of this technical showcase, Avid, Ross Video, Telstra, Lawo, Rohde & Schwarz and others will also have presentations on their progress within IP.
“IP is an extremely hot topic and on everybody’s mind because of the flexibility and the benefits it brings. We are at the start of a completely new era of technology with IP,” says Hassan Ghoul, IABM Director for MEA.

Are software-defined solutions the answer?

Also gaining traction, with significant visibility at CABSAT, is the shift to software-defined solutions and cloud offerings. In fact, Stuart Russell, Senior Communications Manager at Ross Video, says software-defined solutions will perhaps be the road to IP.
“While nobody questions the valuable efficiencies that IP can bring to the broadcast industry, we must also acknowledge that this developing technology comes with challenges,”he notes. “Some may wish to position IP as an ideal or singular path to achieve agility, but that’s clearly not true in all cases.
“In 2018, we are going to see an increasing number of broadcasters and content creators benefiting from solutions that are transport-agnostic,” Russell continues. “The great advantage of these solutions – and Ross Video has a family of them called Software Defined Production (SDP) – lies in their ability to deliver adaptability, scalability and agility to broadcasters, using the choice of transport that is most appropriate for their project.
“By moving away from single-function devices that mostly sit idle to a pool of flexible resources that are able to meet production needs on demand, broadcasters are able to do more with less,” he adds. “This approach is highly pragmatic and helps broadcasters maximise the utility of their existing hardware resources and future-proof their product investments.”
While a lot of attendees will come to see the cameras, the monitors and the rest of the hardware that remains central to the broadcast chain, there will be new discussions around remote productions, new media architectures and business models that focus on cloud-native solutions, the microservices approach, and users wanting cost-effective solutions that enable them to scale up or down based on need.
Anas Hantash, Director of Sales for the MENA region at Imagine Communications, takes that thought one step further with a recommendat
“Media companies are looking for evidence that the vision of a more agile and versatile technology foundation has evolved from theory into practice,” Hantash continues. “At Imagine, we are seeing those practical innovations being implemented in the field today. Many broadcasters and media companies in MENA are focusing on how to inject their operations with the needed agility to respond to current and future market demands, without stranding investment or disrupting operations.
“We feel that the move towards IP-connected, software-defined architectures is unstoppable, and the MENA region is enthusiastically embracing it,” he adds. “CABSAT is a great opportunity to showcase these real solutions and address head-on the issues in today’s hugely competitive market.”
While we can make educated guesses about the pace of technology refreshes in the region, CABSAT is where these conversations will start afresh.
Vijaya Cherian is Editorial Director at CPI Trade Media and Editor of BroadcastPro Middle East magazine. She has covered the MENA broadcast industry for the last 15 years.
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