Dubai: The Middle East viewer is not fixated on catching it all on TV, whatever be the tech breakthroughs current-generation television sets offer. If you still have doubts about that claim, do a random poll of those who spend much of their time on YouTube. It will not be on the lower side. (In fact, Saudi Arabia was rated as having the highest YouTube viewership worldwide last year.)
This forms the basis for the steady increase in the ranks of local/regional video-streaming service providers out to garner viewer attention.
“The Middle East has shown that it is open to online video through the high rates of YouTube viewership... and we expect this to extend to the world of on-demand video streaming,” said Mohammad Al Sa’adi, chief international officer at Telly, one of the recent entrants.
And he believes that there are enough potential subscribers out there to make the business model work here. But, first, they need to be weaned off getting their content from “pirate” sites.
“Even if they can find content on pirated sites for ‘free’, it is worth it to pay a low monthly subscription for the assurances of a reliable, high-quality experience where they know what they are getting and to enjoy the process rather than become frustrated by it,” said Al Sa’adi. “That’s what Telly provides.”
“In addition, people are used to paying for content — even if it is in the form of pirated DVDs or pirated pay-TV subscriptions.
“We do see piracy as our biggest competitor — but if we didn’t believe enough viewers could switch over to use Telly instead of choosing piracy, we wouldn’t be in this business.”
Telly’s reach covers 23 regional markets from the time of the launch in March, and it is seeing an “encouraging uptake” in Saudi Arabia. “We need to be always aware of cultural norms and laws [within Saudi Arabia, for instance] and be mindful of them,” Al Sa’adi said. “And we work hard to make sure we adhere to them.”
“We are not currently focused on advertising in relation to our video-on demand service. “Currently, we are only planning on generating revenues from subscriptions; we believe it offers a better experience to subscribers rather than interrupting their viewing with advertising.”
In terms of content, Telly hews close to the tested path of offering a mix of movies and TV shows. Based on current viewer usage (and in line with industry norms in the US and elsewhere), movie watching trumps that for TV.
“But it is still early days for the service; it will be interesting to see how things evolve,” said Al Sa’adi. “We have also found that both English and Arabic language content are quite popular.”
If, as is anticipated, more video-streaming service providers emerge and raise the competitive stakes, will what is on offer decide who wins and who has makes an exit?
“We believe content is absolutely essential to the success of the service, but service is an integral part of the necessary success,” said Al Saadi. “Telly allows users to build a social graph [based on what others have been watching on the portal], and we use that to help subscribers discover new movies and TV shows to enjoy.
“Content is clearly what drives people to subscribe, but what is the point of content if you can’t find it?”