DUBAI: Global real-life entertainment provider Discovery Inc. launched its streaming service Discovery+ in the Middle East and North Africa in partnership with StarzPlay in Jan. 2021.
In Feb. 2021, Discovery+ signed a long-term partnership with the Saudi Telecom Company through its media arm, Intigral, to bring content to Jawwy TV subscribers.
The content line-up includes shows such as “Shark Week,” “MythBusters,” “NASA’s Unexplained Files” and “Say Yes to the Dress,” as well as the full range of programs from Arabic food channel Fatafeat, making it the first time that its full-length TV shows were available outside the broadcast channel.
In April 2022, AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit and Discovery announced a merger resulting in the formation of Warner Bros Discovery Inc, whose content portfolio includes Discovery Channel, Warner Bros. Entertainment, HBO, Cartoon Network; streaming services Discovery+ and HBO Max; and franchises such as “Batman” and “Harry Potter.”
Arab News caught up with Jamie Cooke, who was promoted to general manager of Warner Bros. Discovery CEE, Baltics, Middle East, Mediterranean and Turkey in June, to learn more about the company’s plans in the region.
“For me, there are three key things: Increasing the accessibility and reach of content; telling stories about, and from, the region through world-class storytelling; and, most importantly, inspiring people through entertainment — which we all need right now in the world,” he said.
“We believe in the agility of identifying opportunities to strengthen our distribution strategy and broaden our 360-entertainment ecosystem,” he said.
In line with this, Warner Bros. Discovery and SRMG, the MENA region’s largest media group, announced their long-term partnership to launch “Asharq Discovery,” a new free-to-air Arabic language channel, exclusively for audiences in the MENA region, in September.
“We recognized that, in order to be a successful global player, it is critical to have relevant content tailored to each region we operate in,” Cooke said.
The company also produced the “COVID-19: Dubai” documentary in partnership with the Government of Dubai Media Office; the first Arabian franchise of “Say Yes to The Dress” with StarzPlay; and Arabic travel gameshow, “Dare to Take Risks,” in partnership with Intigral — all of which were entirely filmed and produced in the region.
The company plans to continue rolling out “a strong line-up of new shows to maintain engagement for the network,” including “Star Chef,” a talent show for the MENA region, and two shows for Fatafeat: “Chef on a Bike,” which champions a female Saudi chef rider, and “Musical Food Show,” which spotlights a modern Arab family and their food culture through the art of music.
Warner Bros. Discovery’s strategy for the region includes “strong partners with an innate understanding of the geographical market,” Cooke said.
He added: “Our omnipresence in the region is not just owed to our accessibility in the streaming, linear networks, FTA networks, and gaming sphere but also to the successful partnerships we’ve built with MENA’s biggest entertainment and broadcast giants: StarzPlay, Intigral, SRMG, BeIN, OSN, MBC, Etisalat, du, and Ooredoo.”
In addition to shows and films, the company is also planning to expand its repertoire of content formats.
“We are introducing new formats that have never been done by the network or other Arabic entertainment players,” Cooke said.
For example, the company introduced its first musical playlist, featuring food recipes as lyrics. It also recently finished filming “Escape Kitchen,” which gamifies a regular cooking show with escape rooms and riddles.
Earlier this year, the company announced its plans to merge Discovery+ and HBO’s streaming platform HBO Max into one platform. The new service will launch in the US next summer, followed by Latin America later in the year, some European markets in 2024, and some key Asia-Pacific territories, Cooke said.
However, there are no plans to launch the merged service in the MENA region where Discovery+ is available via StarzPlay and Jawwy TV and HBO via OSN+.
As the streaming industry becomes more cluttered, streaming services are looking to diversify their revenue streams with new offerings such as Netflix’s Games.
“I believe that the next step for streaming is demonstrating a sustainable business model that balances subscriber growth with profitability. Sounds simple, but it requires a really compelling consumer offer with must-have content as well as a deep library of stories that make people want to stay with the product,” Cooke said.
Cooke acknowledged that the market is crowded and “the global economy is prompting many consumers to prioritize their purchase decision,” but, for Warner Bros. Discovery, “streaming is only one part of our varied approach, and we intend to employ the full range of distribution options, including linear, theatrical, licensing, and D2C, to best meet consumers’ ever-evolving needs and preferences,” Cooke explained.
Although streaming is one of the company’s “most important businesses,” it doesn’t believe that “putting all our programs into one window is good for the consumer, nor is it a good business model,” Cooke said.
He believes that the company’s greatest strength is its ability to monetize “our unparalleled collection of content in multiple ways to provide consumers with choices and optimize asset value.”
“At the heart of everything we do is quality and unparalleled story. Will there be obstacles? Of course. Will it be easy? Not a chance. There will be some challenges we can control and some that we can’t. But as long as we remain committed to delivering world-class content, I’m optimistic about the company’s future.”