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Web TV to take time getting an eye in on Middle East

Big broadcasters hold advantage given access to content and existing viewer base

Gulf News

Dubai: TV rules… and will continue to do so as the preferred entertainment option in the Middle East. And with TV makers starting to win over more buyers for their Ultra HD sets, the viewing experience in your living rooms has just got a whole lot better.

But there are challenges emerging from the sidelines, in the form of web TV, which has already caught the eye in the US — think Netflix — and starting to do so in western Europe. No one disputes that it will make its presence felt in the Middle East, but the question is how fast will the take-up rates be? (For the record, web TV is not just about catching up on your favourite shows on YouTube channels. In fact, it applies to dedicated service providers offering choice content on web-based platforms to subscribers.)

The premium pay-TV broadcaster OSN, for one, is keeping all options open. “OSN continues to look ahead when it comes to delivering premium content; when planning our technology roadmap, we ensure that part of what we deploy has the capabilities to support future trends such as web based TV, which is evident through the OSN Plus HD set-top box,” said Imad Morcos, senior vice-president, business development and digital.

“We are committed to showing the best content to [our] subscribers first, [but] if we receive an offer we would consider creating a library of content available to regional web TV players.”

Now, that is a valid point. Earlier in the year there was talk of web TV initiatives by a couple of local start-ups. But, by the looks of it, the launches have been delayed for a more conducive timeframe.

“The overwhelming evidence around the world is that people like to watch video on large screens, in the company of others and at the same time,” said Christopher O’Hearn, general manager at Dubai Media City based tview. “Online viewing is growing but it is still a tiny percentage of broadcast and will struggle to get a mass audience which can be monetised, as people don’t accept advertising in the same way.

“[But] web TV can certainly provide added value for existing broadcasters and brands and that’s probably where the business model needs to be focused.”

In the TV business, it’s all about content and applies just as well to web TV. This is where existing broadcasters with their huge portfolio of popular shows and new ones in the pipeline can influence viewer habits.

“They have an advantage certainly... but it’s still about the content. You don’t watch Netflix because it is Netflix, you watch it because that’s the way to see a mainstream movie or broadcast TV show — the content is always the central issue, not the delivery method,” said O’Hearn. “The evidence from other markets where web and on-demand services are widely and easily available is that these services are marginal extras — the viewer regards them as like a box of chocolates. Nice to have occasionally... not part of a regular diet.

“There are many eager to predict the end of TV or fundamental changes in viewing habits but there is very little evidence that this is happening or is likely to happen. Even in highly developed markets TV viewing is higher now than it was 10 years ago, and the fact is that a huge amount of social media is about television — without TV and the celebrities and programmes on it there’d be a lot less chat on Twitter.

“TV is the sun at the centre of a galaxy of devices and platforms.”