On the sidelines of Ericssons recent Change Makers Forum in Dubai, Ali Jaber, Group TV Director of MBC, spoke to Vibhuti Arora about the changing face of TV in the region and how MBC is preparing to monetise its sports assets Is digital media a threat to TV, or can the two coexist? We are in […]
On the sidelines of Ericssons recent Change Makers Forum in Dubai, Ali Jaber, Group TV Director of MBC, spoke to Vibhuti Arora about the changing face of TV in the region and how MBC is preparing to monetise its sports assets
Is digital media a threat to TV, or can the two coexist?
We are in the golden age of TV and there is something for everyone here. TV has never been better, with such good quality shows. TV offers fantastically produced, well-curated stories that viewers sit and watch in the comfort of their homes for their daily dose of entertainment and news.
Digital, on the other hand, is a delivery mechanism. It is a pipeline that connects the content provider to the consumer. I feel there is undue attention given to user-generated content, although it cannot be ignored, but it is short-lived. It cant sustain for longer periods of time, and it cant hold a candle to what we do.
20 years after Netscape, 10 years after YouTube and five years after the first iPad, digital content has not destroyed anything in TV. TV news is still going strong. TV ad spend in 2014 was $66.5bn, which increased to $68.5bn in 2015 and is expected to grow to $78.5bn in 2018.
In the Middle East, TV is considered the most aggressive medium, with penetration in KSA at 99%, Egypt at 98%, the UAE at 97% and Kuwait at 98%.
How do you see OTT developing in the future? Is OTT the future of TV?
Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and so on made an impact when they sought the help of seasoned TV makers to produce premium content like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and other high-quality original series. The innovation that Netflix and the like have brought to the table is the new scheduling technique. They thrive on binge viewing.
Binge viewing has changed the way writers write for TV. Earlier, writers used to write a cliffhanger end for each episode that would keep the viewers waiting for the next episode the following week. The writing for TV has changed and we no longer have cliffhangers.
Binge viewing is essentially anti-social. We have nothing in common about TV anymore because each of us is watching our own TV. Most of us do not have time to go through the entire offering, and more often than not, we have no idea what to watch. Its like going to a large warehouse stacked with paintings faced against the wall, as opposed to well-curated museums, where paintings and artworks are collected and mounted on the walls for viewing. The latter is what TV offers, we know exactly what our audience wants.
Consumption of TV in the coming years will expand. It was said that video killed the radio star; today apps are said to be killing channels and internet is killing video. But I dont believe in that; all of us have room to coexist and thrive.
We recently saw some of the Fox channels move from FTA to pay. What does that signal for the FTA industry in the region?
There is exciting movement happening in the pay space. We are also looking at the pay option for our sports offerings. Our sports channel, which has rights to the Saudi League, can be used as an interesting opportunity to look into an alternative revenue stream.
Players such as beIN, Netflix and Starz will surely impact the existing pay TV scenario.
We are monitoring this movement. The challenge will be how much these big players will invest in tailor-making these programmes for the audience. BeIN has hit the ceiling for their sports content, and the only way to move forward is to diversify to general entertainment, hence a family offering where they offer entertainment, but the road ahead is hard and long for them.
Its no secret that pay TV in the region has accumulated losses. FTA up until now is a better business model for the region. Money has not migrated yet from FTA to pay.
How is MBC embracing the change in broadcast?
MBC is leading the change. We are very serious about our digital business and have a massive digital footprint with Shahid.net, Alarabiya.net and MBC.net. We are also present on Twitter, Facebook, and then, there are various micro sites of individual programmes that receive traffic. Our various digital platforms have 300m followers and this is something we can tap into.
Shahid.net is a catch-up venue for our TV programming. We have also introduced Shahid Plus, a subscription-based premium VOD service.
Can you elaborate on your digital offering? How do you plan to monetise that?
We need to be everywhere because we have the content. Content is king, but monetising content is bigger than that.
We aim to make our digital offerings economically viable. We have gained a lot of traction on the SVOD and TVOD service with Shahid Plus.
How do you woo your advertisers?
Its not a great time to talk about growing advertisers in the Arab world. We will be lucky to have flat revenue as far as ad revenues are concerned. Having said that, our experience has helped us carve a position for ourselves in the market. Being a premium network, we are the least affected. We have felt the strain of shrinking ad budgets but are lucky to not have a total breakdown. Other channels are suffering.
We are the only network that makes money out of the 1,600 channels in the Arab world be it pay, free or VOD, all of them are struggling. We cant sit on our laurels; we have to keep our eye on the ball. In TV, we have some tentpole shows that uplift a channel and give us the opportunity to invest in new ones.
For MBC, linear TV is always going to be free-to-air. I see linear free-to-air (FTA) TV going strong for at least another 10 years in the region, although we are exploring other avenues to keep up with the changing broadcast landscape.
Which of your channels are the strongest?
MBC 1 is our flagship channel. It offers well-rounded entertainment for anyone who speaks Arabic anywhere in the world. MBC 2 and 4 are also big drivers of revenue for us. MBC 4 is more pan-Arab, while MBC 2 is a Western movie channel. Our Bollywood channel has gained a lot of momentum, and is doing extremely well.
What is the recipe for success for a TV network?
Knowing your audience and giving them what they want, how and when they want it, is what works in television. We know our audiences and their needs, we know what appeals to them, thanks to 25 years of MBCs experience with Gulf and Arab audiences.
But the audiences have changed drastically from 25 years ago.
So have we, by constantly reinventing ourselves. We are engaging the millennials now. From 2011, we have been investing in engagement TV rather than escapist TV. In addition to our one-way series and movies, we have invested huge amounts in reality television and programmes that require audience engagement.
People watch the shows on TV and discuss them on social media, which brings more eyeballs back to the show. Activity on social media intrigues those involved in a discussion and prods them to watch these shows. The Voice is an incredibly successful show and now, The Voice Kids is very popular.
International formats are great, but the trick lies in adapting them. Other networks have previously tried to adapt The X Factor but their attempts have failed miserably. With MBC, its ratings went through the roof. The success of these shows lies in a strong production department and a robust production infrastructure.