Dubai: Traditional television is battling it out with digital platforms as it strives to remain relevant in a society where consumers can choose what they want, when they want it, and how.
The market has also reached a stage where the likes of Netflix, Amazon and more recently, Apple TV+, offer subscription streaming services with original content that can be played on tablets, mobile phones and smart TVs.
During the Arab Media Forum, two experts in the broadcasting industry focused on the challenges that television networks currently face and discussed how the inevitable change of technology will change the future of television.
Albert Shafik, director of Extra News Egyptian TV Channel, explained that television has lost its interest with the audience and faces a challenge with social media and digital platforms.
“There is a huge challenge for traditional television but we can cope by getting out of our talk shows and television studios, and broaden our content,” he said.
The current audience tends to use digital platforms as opposed to traditional television, which means that networks have to shorten their content and be cutting-edge, otherwise “it’s going to be a bore,’ said Shafik.
As of 2016, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) group had an audience of more than 100 million viewers in the Arab world but the distribution is changing.
“Over the years, we expect all content to be delivered over the internet and have its contents tailored to the audience,” said Johannes Larcher, managing director of MBC Digital.
Shafik agreed that it is quite simply a natural approach for television networks to change, as they must be made readily available on a digital platform. “The [Western] media is competitive in developing content but in the Arab region, it is weak, even if they are subtitled or dubbed. This makes us think how to enhance our quality to have a worthy competition with them,” he said.
Larcher also pointed out that the key for networks to survive in the digital age is content, and believes that over time, live channels will be delivered over the internet. This change will be positive one for all stakeholders since consumers will be able to decide what they want to watch, advertisers will get more hold of a target audience, and content creators will have the opportunity to create more.
However, linear television also has to compete with social media, “which is tremendously popular in the Middle East and the level of engagement is the highest than anywhere else in the world,” said Larcher.
“We use social media to promote our channels. It drives the audience back to television and attracts them also to digital,” he said.
The Middle Eastern region is at the beginning of adopting premium video content, which means that consumers face challenges before taking up subscription streaming services due to the high price of data plans and the lack of good quality content provided by Arab broadcasting companies.
“But the rising tide will lift all the boats in the region,” added Larcher.