Web streaming services in the Middle East are no longer the forte of the big broadcasters and telcos alone – start-ups too are making a play for it.
A new platform – icflix – will shortly start delivery of a portfolio of subscription-based entertainment options to regional viewers, including a choice of English, Hindi and Arabic language movies. Some of the movies could even be delivered immediately after their commercial release as part of a premium bouquet.
“Our target is to launch during the summer and before Ramadan,” said Carlos Tibi, CEO of icflix. “Our content budget already took into account all three content mediums — the infancy plan was to always include Hollywood, Bollywood and Jazwood (Arabic language movies).
“Hollywood will be available within the Middle East and North Africa whereas Jazwood and Bollywood will be available for most of our global customer base. The service will be offered in multiple languages on the website and connected devices such as PCs, Macs, Smart TVs, iPhones, iPads, Android phones, tablets and gaming consoles.”
For the Arabic language content, icflix has to date secured licensing agreements from the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) and the Arab Radio and Television Network (ART). A privately held company, Tibi said the operations were “well capitalised” and that the target is to attain a breakeven point 18 months into the launch of full services.
“Today we consume content that is produced in America, Europe, Asia, and other places — we believe Arabic content has the potential to appeal to such a globalised audience,” said Tibi. “In addition to the most recent productions, we are also investing heavily in restoring and digitally re-mastering classic Arabic movies and plays that form part of our culture — it is part of our commitment to Jazwood.”
Apart from the subscription charges for the generic content, there will be a pay-per-view model for new titles fresh off the cinemas.
Icflix is obviously looking to an early mover advantage as it works on the launch schedule. According to Wael Abdul Hadi, digital director at the consultancy Cheil UAE, the regional web services platform is there to be occupied.
“On-demand streaming TV content businesses such as “Hulu” have existed for some time now in markets like the USA. The popularity of such services prove that it is becoming more and more of a reality that we live in a world of on-demand entertainment, where people have the choice to consume programming on many formats at a time of their choosing.
Driven by the growing habits of their consumers, big players of the industry such as ISP providers, broadcasters and content owners are moulding, integrating, and evolving their business models in tandem with user habits.
“Hardware providers such as TV manufactures are releasing Smart TVs that allow easy access to applications and digital content from web streaming services,” said Abdul Hadi. “At the same time, service providers are offering an on-demand service and broadcasters such as OSN and MBC are launching media extensions to deliver TV content over both web and mobile.
“This opens up the market for independent companies and the likes of Icflix can go on to compete with traditional broadcasters… provided the price is right and the service is seamless. As such there is definitely depth in the market for web streaming services.”