Dubai pay-TV network OSN plots high-tech turnaround

Dubai pay-TV network OSN plots high-tech turnaround
Drama but no crisis: OSN hopes it can shrug off profitability worries with success stories such as “How To Get Away With Murder.”
Updated 11 December 2018

Dubai pay-TV network OSN plots high-tech turnaround

Dubai pay-TV network OSN plots high-tech turnaround

DUBAI: OSN, the Dubai-based pay-TV provider, must develop technology to keep pace with customer demand and “deliver entertainment that matters” if it is to regain growth, according to its new chief executive. 

Patrick Tillieux, who took over as CEO at the end of November, joins at a time of uncertainty for the network. Last month Kuwait Projects Co. (KIPCO) hired Goldman Sachs to advise on the sale of its majority stake in the company.

Increased competition from online streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon, combined with piracy and a perceived lack of value for money, contributed to OSN’s declining fortunes. According to Bloomberg, KIPCO’s share of profits from the network fell to a loss of $65 million in the first six months of this year, compared with a profit of
$36.1 million in 2014. 

“The Middle East and North Africa region is still under-served by pay-TV,” said Tillieux, who has been on OSN’s board for two years and chairs its executive committee.

“Yes, there are more options for customers now, but I believe there is room for all players to coexist and grow. We were, in fact, the first to partner with Netflix in the region, which has been a big step toward industry collaboration and integration. 

“Changing viewing habits and the explosion of social media short-form content has affected everyone. However, this does not mean (customers) do not want high-quality entertainment for the family. What it does mean is that players such as OSN need to evolve our technology to meet customers’ viewing preferences.”

OSN declined to comment on the nature of that evolution, saying only that it faced both increased competition and high operating costs. Organized piracy is also hitting the network hard. The pay-TV provider is responding to these challenges by adapting its offering through “value pricing and relevant packaging.”

“Managing an entertainment network such as OSN, offering such a diversity of programming, technology and viewing experience, is a massive operation,” said Tillieux.

“Operational costs increase every year, and this is true for every pay-TV operator. As an organization, we are responding to higher operating costs through stronger resource use efficiency and cost optimization, but at the same time we need to adapt and evolve much faster to be able to provide the entertainment that our customers want to watch, via any platform of their choosing and at a price they can afford. 

“This means we also need to review our content strategy and focus on delivering entertainment that matters to our customers. We recently piloted a new proposition called El Farq in the region, which offers all our entertainment at one price so customers get everything, contract free, providing exceptional value.

“So far, the results have been promising and we will continue to tweak our proposition and pricing until we hit the sweet spot between price, package and value for money.”

Turning OSN around, however, will be tough. The network’s sluggishness has been a significant contributor to its current predicament, with Karan Kukreja, general manager of media agency OMD UAE, saying that disruption in consumer viewing habits meant “opportunities for those players with deep pockets, the right strategies, and the agility to act accordingly.” None of which, arguably, applies to OSN. 

Diala Hamad, media director at Vizeum MENA, also believes that insufficient resources have been invested in Arabic content for OSN’s core Saudi Arabian market. The popularity of YouTube in the Kingdom has further complicated matters, while content providers such as Starz Play and Istikana are delivering Arabic content at much cheaper rates.

“Netflix and other content providers have definitely played a role in OSN’s current downturn, especially as OSN’s content is still not addressing the local population in Saudi Arabia through relevant Arabic content that speaks their language,” said Hamad.

“OSN could have become a strong competitor to the current video-on-demand platforms, but the entry point of a paid-TV subscription became a barrier,” said Kukreja. “The content line-up also would have played a key role.”

For Tillieux, however, OSN’s biggest strength is its diversity of content, provided through both linear and digital platforms. Yet, at $30 a month, even its new El Farq package is triple the price of a monthly Netflix subscription.

“One of my key priorities is to evolve the OSN value proposition to match customer needs and their wallet,” he said.

“The perception of value for money is changing. People are more cautious about their spending and the time they spend on TV or streaming services. One of my priorities is to find the sweet spot between product, experience and price.”


Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai in custody after fraud charge

Updated 03 December 2020

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai in custody after fraud charge

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai in custody after fraud charge
  • Authorities have intensified a crackdown on key opposition figures in the Chinese-ruled city
  • ‘This is about dirtying Jimmy up. It’s Beijing’s policing brought to Hong Kong’

HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai was denied bail on Thursday on a charge of fraud related to the lease of a building that houses his Apple Daily, an anti-government tabloid.
Authorities have intensified a crackdown on key opposition figures in the Chinese-ruled city since Beijing circumvented the local legislature and imposed sweeping national security legislation on the global financial center on June 30.
While Lai’s fraud charge did not fall under the national security law, it marks the latest crackdown on pro-democracy figures in the former British colony, which was handed back to Beijing in 1997 with a promise to maintain the free-wheeling city’s way of life for 50 years.
Critics say the law crushes freedoms in the global financial center, while supporters say it will bring stability after prolonged anti-China, pro-democracy protests last year.
On Wednesday, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists Joshua Wong was jailed for more than 13 months for his role in an unlawful anti-government rally in 2019, the toughest and most high-profile sentencing of an opposition figure this year.
Lai, 73, and two senior executives of his company Next Digital, were charged on Wednesday on suspicion of concealing from and falsely representing the use of their office to their landlord, a public corporation set up by the Hong Kong government.
The charge stated they were not using the office space as permitted under the lease between 2016 to 2020, and had sub-let a part of the premises, resulting in benefits to Apple Daily.
Reuters was not immediately able to reach Lai or his lawyers for comment. Next Digital suspended trading on Thursday morning, pending an announcement containing “inside information.”
“This is about dirtying Jimmy up. It’s Beijing’s policing brought to Hong Kong,” Mark Simon, an associate of Lai, told Reuters.
An ardent critic of Beijing, Lai has been detained since Wednesday after reporting to the police for his arrest in August. Prosecutors applied to adjourn the case until April next year, according to local media.
In August, Lai was arrested after about 200 police officers swooped on his offices. Hong Kong police later said they had arrested nine men and one woman for suspected offenses including “collusion with a foreign country/external elements to endanger national security, conspiracy to defraud” and others.
Suspicion of colluding with foreign forces carries a maximum sentence of life in jail under the new security law.
Lai has been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he has met officials, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor.”
The security law was introduced on June 30 and punishes anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.