Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Access to Star Wars and the Disney ouevre certainly places OSN on a strong wicket. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: A world in lockdown seems to have done much to revive OSN, the Gulf’s very own satellite-to-streaming services provider. Through the last two months, OSN has along with all other web-TV platforms been able to make full use of having captive audiences searching what to watch out next.

And then came Disney.

Early April, OSN confirmed a brand new alliance with the US media giant, allowing it instant access to the latter’s library of “Star Wars” and “The Avengers” titles and just about everything else.

“Our agreement with Disney+ Originals is unique in the world,” said Patrick Tillieux, CEO of OSN, based at Dubai Media City. “It builds further on the strengths of both companies in the Middle-East and permits both companies to explore a model that is in itself quite rare - the dual reach of dish reception on the one hand and a streaming app on the other hand.

“Both companies felt that this was an opportunity to further explore. We started this new collaboration a month ago with the launch of the new Star Wars series, “The Mandalorian”, and I must say that I am quite satisfied with the early success.”

Patrick Tillieux, CEO of OSN, put the company through an intensive restructuring to make it fit for battle with the streaming giants.

Quite the comeback

For OSN, these few weeks have proved a revelation. Based on market talk, the company had gone through an extensive restructuring, and it was felt the OSN brand was losing out to an all-powerful Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. It was OSN needed something extra to convince subscribers to stick on with it… or win new ones.

OSN’s very own streaming app, Wavo, was not making too much of a wave – and that’s what Tillieux set out to rework.

“Pulling out of Wavo and transforming our streaming business into one app called OSN was based on the belief that having one brand for all our business lines is a more consistent approach than operating competing brands,” the CEO said. “It makes commercial sense… but most of all it permits to found our new streaming app on the qualities of our OSN brand - quality and variety of entertainment on an exclusive basis and before anybody else.

“Wavo is now a thing of the past, let’s leave it in the past. Lots of mistakes were made out of it - which thankfully we learnt a lot from. I am now proud of the whole OSN team who launched this OSN app in the midst of a total corona virus lockdown.”

With the rebranded OSN app available for $10 a month, it also meant competing with Netflix and Amazon Prime in a price brand that subscribers were comfortable with.

An intensive surgery

But two good months on their own need not make for a complete turnaround. But after the accumulated troubles of the past, OSN has a chance to make it work.

“Let me tell you, 2019 was an extremely difficult year,” Tillieux added. “I often use the image of being in the hospital in intensive care. We needed deep surgery.

“In order to prepare for the future, we had to transform our company radically. We needed to make this upending transition from dish-only entertainment to this dual-play of classic TV channels and streaming on-demand.

“We had to massively reduce our headcount, bring in new talent, abandon sports and renegotiate all our suppliers, refinance the company and call the support of our shareholders. This transformational journey is successful.

“For sure our work is not finished and we will need this year to further consolidate our house. I believe that with the launch of the streaming app, OSN is showing its best face since a long time - and it’s a happy face.”

The 'force' is unleashed

It was on April 2 that OSN was confirmed as exclusive distributor of The Walt Disney Company’s new “Disney+” Originals in the Middle East. The content is available across both OSN platforms - the set-top box and its relaunched streaming service.

Disney recently launched its own streaming app – Disney+ - to take on Netflix, and it was assumed that this would be made available in the Middle East as a direct-from-Disney offering. With its legions of fans, Disney+ was the biggest thing to have happened to steaming services… since Netflix.

So, OSN’s tie-up to offer Disney+ originals was nothing short of a coup.

A closer future with Disney?

Will the current Disney alliance be upgraded into something deeper? “Our agreement with Disney is exclusive for the region… as is all our earlier agreements,” the CEO said. “One could imagine a deeper collaboration going forward. It may be too early to try to answer such a question, but for my part it is certainly an option worth keeping in the back of our head.

“For the moment we concentrate on execution and that keeps us quite busy.”

A chance for other investors

An OSN in revival mode could be a pick for investors. If at all streaming services wanted to show off its credentials, the last two months provided ample proof.

“When I look around in the region, I see many entertainment offers trying to emerge, all competing with each other,” Tillieux said. “Most telecom companies try to build up entertainment offers, most often with elusive results.

“Too often telcos consider entertainment as a value-added service to their telecommunication services - while the true potential lies into convergence. So, sure it would make a lot of sense to combine the content skills and strengths of OSN with the distribution and customer knowledge of a telecom partner.

“Most certainly, if there is a regional appetite. As broadband and 5G are expanding, this will certainly become pertinent in a near future.”

OSN Still
OSN is also pushing for greater uptake among viewers for its OSN Store offerings. Pictured is a still from ‘The Perfect Candidate’.