DUBAI: In January, as many businesses around the world grappled with the economic impacts of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, mass media company Discovery forged ahead with the global launch of its streaming platform discovery+.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, discovery+ launched in the same month through a partnership with StarzPlay.
Then in February, Discovery signed a partnership with Saudi Telecom Co. (stc), through its media arm Intigral, to provide discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform. Users can sign up for the add-on subscription, which will be valid for 12 months.
The two companies also plan to make the discovery+ app available to stc’s mobile customers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain as an added value to the existing service.
The partnership will come into effect on Wednesday when existing and new Jawwy TV subscribers can take advantage of a complimentary subscription to the discovery+ add-on.
Each month, new documentaries will be uploaded to the platform across content categories such as lifestyle and relationships, home and food, true crime, adventure and natural history, science, technology, and the environment.
Jamie Cooke, group senior vice president and general manager for Discovery Inc. in central eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Russia, told Arab News that there was no defining moment when Discovery – a traditional TV company – decided to launch a streaming service.
“We have known that we needed to make that shift as the whole industry is having to make. We have just been very mindful about when the right moment is,” he said.
Although the global launch of discovery+ only happened this year, it was being tested as “Dplay” in certain markets for more than five years.
Cooke pointed out that it had been a “gradual process” to put together all the parts to make the streaming platform a success, from gathering the right skill sets to experimenting with the kind of content.
“When we think about the streaming industry as a whole, it’s a very crowded environment where most players are competing for the same audience with the same kinds of content,” he added, referring to scripted shows that drive a lot of the streaming services.
“We had a very clear, consumer proposition, which is this idea of a definitive, non-fiction, real-life subscription streaming service. We took the best of what we are, which is the fact that we are a definitive destination for unscripted storytelling, and that’s what we need to focus on.”
That was also the driving force behind the company’s strategy to form partnerships instead of launching as an independent platform.
“The key to our success will be partnerships,” said Cooke, who noted that discovery+ had linked up with Verizon in the US, Sky in the UK, and Vodafone across parts of Europe. There was “great power” in partnerships, he added, because “they bring a lot of subscribers, and we bring a lot of services.”
The company’s current priority was to focus on existing partnerships in the MENA region and get them to work, but it was open to looking at other regional partnerships in the future.
The streaming platform is forming two kinds of partnerships: Telecom providers and streaming platforms. For now, Cooke is “agnostic” on whether one is better than the other as the streaming service only started in January. “It is just about putting our content where consumers are,” he said.
In the MENA region, in particular, he pointed out that while Discovery had a good brand presence it did not have a subscriber base from a digital point of view, which explained the partnership with StarzPlay.
He added that people were spending more than 50 percent of their time watching unscripted content, and “we are the world’s leading provider of unscripted content. So, why would we set ourselves up as a competing service when actually we’re kind of complementary?”
Discovery also recently extended its partnership with beIN across the region for its linear channel service.
Although headlines often indicated that television was dead or dying, that was not actually the case, said Cooke. Last year was the channel’s best ever globally for the linear portfolio audience, up 10 percent year-on-year, and audience growth exceeded the rise in total TV viewing.
And Discovery’s partnership with Jawwy included seven of its international linear channels: Discovery Channel, Fatafeat, TLC, Discovery Family, Animal Planet, Discovery Science, and Investigation Discovery, with more channels coming available in the near future.
“The lines between what is television and streaming are getting increasingly blurred,” Cooke added.
Streaming services can have 24/7 or scheduled channels on their platforms too.
For instance, Fatafeat launched its app in Saudi Arabia last month featuring a live feed so users could watch programs at the same time as they aired on television. This was the first time in the brand’s history that the channel had been made available in a mobile format.
The move was in line with Cooke’s belief that there was an opportunity for a hybrid version that combined traditional TV channels within a streaming environment.
He said: “We have rebranded ‘Genius Kitchen’ (app) to Fatafeat and we’ve put the linear channels inside the app. We are looking to hopefully have a lot of growth with that through Ramadan.”
BIO: Jamie Cooke
Jamie Cooke was appointed in October 2020 as general manager for Discovery’s business in central eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Russia.
He is also responsible for running the majority of Discovery’s pay TV channels throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) as a whole. Cooke has worked at Discovery for a number of years in EMEA roles, most recently as chief of staff for the EMEA region working on multimarket projects as well as leading the regional people and culture function.
He is experienced in the telecommunications industry across EMEA, having been heavily involved in strategy and transformation projects for Discovery.
His background is in human resources having worked with Discovery management to build the operations, teams, and culture across EMEA over the last 10 years, with a particular focus on acquisitions and integrations. Cooke has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology and is a qualified executive coach.