OSN, the pay-TV operator, is taking direct aim at a younger audience in the region through a new channel — “Asli” — on its Wavo app. In the initial phase, Asli will feature original short form video and audio content — principally in Arabic — that OSN will have licensing rights to. Then, at a later stage, it will move on to commissioning its own content on Asli, according to a senior official.
All of the content will be sourced from within the region, particularly among the up and coming talent who use digital platforms to tell a story and much besides.
“We were missing something that caters to a younger audience — Asli sets that right,” said Martin Stewart, CEO. “We need to cater to their needs and wants. Plus, we are spending more on Arabic language content — the focus for now is get as close to the customer. We need to understand them as well as we understand ourselves.”
What is interesting is that OSN is putting up Asli directly onto its Wavo app rather than have a stand-alone channel on its wider satellite TV platform. Asli will have 40 hours of content in its “first season” and will be free of subscription charges.
A video show on it would typically average between four to six minutes with the longest one with a 11-minute duration. On the decision to have it on the app, Stewart said: “The focus of Asli had to be in the digital space because that’s where it’s the best fit. We are looking to it to be the first curated original content licensing ecosystem.
“It’s a fairly unique model and takes care of the licensing and distribution commissioning part for the content creators. At the same time, they will retain their IP. We are putting it through Wavo because that’s where the creators and their audiences live.”
The battle of web streaming apps is still very much in its nascent phase in the Middle East. Netflix, Starz and a host of others — some aiming solely for a certain demographic — all have their competing shows and original content to win over subscribers. And keep getting to shell out their monthly subscription payments to come back for more view time. It was in August that OSN went ahead with its Wavo streaming platform, and the progress to date is in line with expectations, the CEO added. Wavo has struck alliances with du and Zain and also has a tie-in with McDonald’s.
Stewart makes a point of saying that Asli is not an out and out Arabic content channel. “Doing it in Arabic along would have limited our ambitions to take this content wider. Moreover, it would not have reflected the population mix in the Middle East. And down the road there’s the rest of the world we would like to speak to through Asli.
“We want to expose original work to a broader audience, in English and Arabic. This way we get to provide greater access to digital content to a much wider audience than we have done so far. And I don’t think it’s just the 20-year olds can enjoy.”
Cord-cutting in the age of web-streaming
It’s been five months since OSN introduced its web TV platform through Wavo. While declining to go into specific numbers on take up rates, the OSN CEO said “progress” is being made.
“We want to capture audiences where they view content — whether online, catch-up services, on-demand or through the linear channel offerings,” said Martin Stewart. “The key is to make sure we evolve the business.”
According to Stewart, cord-cutting — where pay-TV subscribers disconnect their service to go onto web-TV options — in the Middle East is not as much of an issue as it is elsewhere. At least for the moment.
And if need be OSN is prepared to take on change. “Our shareholders have always been supportive during periods of great change and tough conditions in the market. They remain firmly supportive in our need to evolve constantly.”