DUBAI: Last month, OSN Group announced an investment of $50 million in local audio streaming app Anghami, which will see its streaming service OSN+ and Anghami merge to form one entity.
The deal, currently subject to regulatory approval, is expected to be completed before the end of the first quarter of 2024, combining over 120 million Anghami registered users and more than 2.5 million OSN+ paying subscribers.
“The move helps us scale very quickly,” Joe Kawkabani, CEO of OSN Group, told Arab News.
The new company will be powered by an integrated technology platform on the back end, which will “allow us to be more agile in terms of serving our customers and giving them a superior technological experience,” he said.
OSN is, however, taking its time to decide what the front end will look like. Both brands have different strengths; OSN+ is well known for premium video content, particularly in the Gulf, while Anghami is well known in West Africa and Levant, Kawkabani added.
“We want to leverage the strength of both brands and take our time to see what our customers want and make decisions accordingly,” he said.
This means that the companies have not yet decided whether they will merge both apps into one or introduce content from either platform on the other or some combination of the two.
Part of the uncertainty is intentional, Kawkabani said. “We have massive scale and great content, so we have all the right ingredients to go effectively wherever we want from here.”
He added: “I like to create strategic moves that give us the flexibility, and honestly at that point, we have to just listen to what the customer wants.”
The deal also “gives us an opportunity, through the combination of music and video, to engage our customers throughout the day,” he said.
The time and method of consuming audio and video formats can vary vastly, with audiences listening to music and podcasts while commuting, for example, and tuning into video formats like TV shows and movies at the end of the day, he explained.
“Now, we can engage with our customers throughout the day, and that will help us build a very robust foundation for our business,” he added.
And that is what ultimately matters to OSN. As Kawkabani put it: “We care a lot about engaged and happy customers.”
Approximately 37 percent of OSN’s customers in the Gulf are purely cord-cutters, while 23 percent are primarily traditional TV viewers and the remaining 40 percent are hybrid viewers, meaning that they consume content on streaming platforms as well as linear TV channels, Kawkabani explained.
The company has made several investments to cater to these various segments, such as launching an upgraded version of the OSNtv box this June, which provides both live TV and streaming channels through one device.
Western content performs extremely well in the Middle East, said Kawkabani. Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” for example, broke the 2023 record for advanced ticket sales in Saudi Arabia.
OSN has capitalized well on this success, building exclusive partnerships with international studios such as HBO, NBC Universal, and Paramount.
When it comes to original content, the streamer wants to do more but is focused on quality over quantity, and that takes “time and patience” to build the kind of slate that can sit comfortably with other premium shows in its library, said Kawkabani.
Its first original feature film, “Yellow Bus,” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year where it was one of the 26 titles featured in TIFF’s Discovery program.
Kawkabani was reluctant to name a number when it came to upcoming originals “because managing volume on a streaming service is different than managing volume on a linear service,” with the former allowing streamers to produce based on audience feedback and the latter requiring broadcasters to account for the number of hours they need to fill.
He said: “There is no fixed percentage we’re working towards, but we’re going to keep on increasing year on year, quarter over quarter as we find new projects.”
Although global companies like Netflix produce hundreds of originals every year — with several local partnerships now in effect in the Middle East — Kawkabani remains unfazed.
“What they do doesn’t dictate what we do,” he said.
“We don’t try to emulate or follow the footsteps of others. We believe that from a local perspective, we have a better vantage point. We are from the region,” he added.
Bringing together its array of Western as well as regional content — such as Turkish shows dubbed in Arabic that are popular among audiences — with its local background, Kawkabani views OSN as a “gateway” for international companies in the region.
He also believes there is an opportunity in the Middle East for “premium local stories” and that is where “OSN can play a role in producing and broadcasting.”
The need for a “strong local streamer” is critical, especially as the number of streaming services increases, he said.
“Being a successful streamer and offering content worthy of subscriptions — or their (consumers’) time and engagement — is very hard, so we feel that we need to be one of the top two or three apps that customers use frequently and repeatedly,” he concluded.