‘Now, we can engage with our customers throughout the day,’ says OSN Group CEO on new Anghami-OSN+ deal

‘Now, we can engage with our customers throughout the day,’ says OSN Group CEO on new Anghami-OSN+ deal
The deal, currently subject to regulatory approval, is expected to be completed before the end of the first quarter of 2024. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 December 2023
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‘Now, we can engage with our customers throughout the day,’ says OSN Group CEO on new Anghami-OSN+ deal

‘Now, we can engage with our customers throughout the day,’ says OSN Group CEO on new Anghami-OSN+ deal
  • New company will be powered by an integrated technology platform

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.


Media watchdog condemns assassination attempt on Iraqi publisher

Media watchdog condemns assassination attempt on Iraqi publisher
Updated 27 February 2024
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Media watchdog condemns assassination attempt on Iraqi publisher

Media watchdog condemns assassination attempt on Iraqi publisher
  • Fakhri Karim was leaving a book fair with his wife when shots were fired by a group of unidentified individuals
  • Committee to Protect Journalists calls on officials to quickly pinpoint, punish those responsible

LONDON: Media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned an assassination attempt on prominent Iraqi publisher and politician Fakhri Karim.

Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said in a statement the assassination attempt “in a highly secure area of Baghdad sheds a bright light on the darkness Iraq and its journalists are increasingly facing.”

He also called on authorities to quickly pinpoint and punish those responsible.

A group of unidentified individuals — armed and masked — fired at least 17 shots at Karim’s car on Feb. 22 before fleeing in two trucks, according to reports from media outlets and statements on Facebook from his organization.

Karim, publisher and editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper, was leaving a book fair hosted by the Al-Mada Foundation for Media, Culture, and Arts in Baghdad.

Karim and his wife, Ghada Al-Amily, were uninjured in the attack.

The incident occurred at about 9 p.m. in the Al-Qadisiyah district of Baghdad, a heavily guarded area that houses Iraqi government security agencies and officials close to the Green Zone, where foreign embassies are located.

In a Facebook statement on Feb. 23, Al-Mada called it a “cowardly assassination attempt” and called for a criminal investigation.

Iraq’s Interior Minister Abdul Amir Al-Shammari said that he had instructed a special security team to enhance security and intelligence operations in order to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for the crime.

Karim is a well-known politician and journalist who worked as an adviser to former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. He was a strong critic of former Iraqi dictator and President Saddam Hussein. His newspaper, Al-Mada, is considered one of the few remaining independent newspapers in Iraq.


Berlin mayor decries ‘antisemitism’ over Berlinale speeches on Palestine solidarity

Berlin mayor decries ‘antisemitism’ over Berlinale speeches on Palestine solidarity
Updated 27 February 2024
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Berlin mayor decries ‘antisemitism’ over Berlinale speeches on Palestine solidarity

Berlin mayor decries ‘antisemitism’ over Berlinale speeches on Palestine solidarity
  • Politically charged edition of film festival saw many artists, including many of Jewish heritage, expressing solidarity with Palestine
  • Mayor Kai Wegner called promotion of ‘antisemitism’ during festival an ‘intolerable relativization’
  • Israeli Yuval Abraham, co-director of winning documentary ‘No Other Land,’ said he received death threats after speech

LONDON: Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner has accused the Berlin Film Festival of promoting “antisemitism” following speeches expressing solidarity with Palestine during the closing ceremony on Saturday.

Wegner urged the state-backed festival management to “ensure that such incidents do not happen again.”

In a post on X, he said: “What happened yesterday at the Berlinale was an intolerable relativization. Anti-Semitism has no place in Berlin, and that also applies to the art scene.”

Although Wegner did not specify the particular aspect of the ceremony or the artists he took issue with, he emphasized Berlin’s commitment to freedom and its “firm” support for Israel.

A member of the Christian Democratic Union party, Wegner assumed office as mayor in April 2023. Throughout the recent crisis in the Middle East, he has consistently voiced support for Israel, attributing “full responsibility for the deep suffering in Israel and the Gaza Strip” to Hamas.

During the 10-day festival, numerous artists used the stage to express solidarity with Palestine, including Yuval Abraham, director of the documentary “No Other Land,” who called for a ceasefire as he received his award on Saturday.

Accompanied by Palestinian fellow co-director Basel Adra, he said: “In two days, we will go back to a land where we are not equal. I am living under a civilian law, and Basel is under military law. We live 30 minutes from one another, but I have voting rights, and Basel (does not have) voting rights. I am free to move where I want in this land. Basel is, like millions of Palestinians, locked in the occupied West Bank. This situation of apartheid between us, this inequality, it has to end. We need to call for a ceasefire.”

Abraham, an Israeli journalist, filmmaker, and activist based in Jerusalem, accused Israel of a “massacre” and criticized German arms sales to Israel.

Abraham later posted the Berlinale clip to X, saying that he had received multiple death threats following the broadcast of the speech by Israel’s Channel 11.

“Our film ‘No Other Land’ on occupied Masafer Yatta’s brutal expulsion won best documentary in Berlinale. Israel’s channel 11 aired this 30 second segment from my speech, insanely called it ‘anti semitic’ — and I’ve been receiving death threats since. I stand behind every word,” he said in a post on X.

Other filmmakers and jury members, including American Jewish director Eliza Hittman, also used the closing ceremony to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The festival also faced an attack by anonymous hackers, who accessed the official Berlinale Panorama Instagram account and shared a series of infographics about the war in Gaza.

The posts highlighted Germany’s involvement in the conflict, criticizing what they perceived as the country’s exaggerated historical guilt toward Jews.

“From our unresolved Nazi past to our genocidal present — we have always been on the wrong side of history. But it’s not too late to change our future,” read one of the posts.

The festival promptly removed the posts and announced plans to “file criminal charges against unknown persons” responsible for sharing “posts about the war in the Middle East.”

In a statement, the Berlinale management clarified that filmmakers’ statements were independent and “in no way represent” the opinions of the festival. They emphasized that statements should be accepted as long as they “respect the legal framework.”

On Monday, a governement spokeperson said German officials will investigate how Berlin film festival winners made “one-sided” comments condemning Israel’s war in Gaza at the awards gala.

Amid the widespread anger at the comments at the award ceremony, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Ron Prosor, said on social media: “Once again, the German cultural scene showcases its bias by rolling out the red carpet exclusively for artists who promote the delegitimisation of Israel.”

At the film festival, “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel discourse was met with applause”, he added.

This year’s Berlinale marked the final edition under the leadership of Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. The next edition will be led by former London Film Festival head Tricia Tuttle, who was present at the closing ceremony and received recognition from Rissenbeek.


Billboard Arabia launches exclusive studio session ‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’

Billboard Arabia launches exclusive studio session ‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’
Updated 27 February 2024
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Billboard Arabia launches exclusive studio session ‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’

Billboard Arabia launches exclusive studio session ‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’
  • Series combines Arabic songs, modern music culture and innovative melodies
  • The inaugural session showcases Ahmed Saad performing his chart-topping hits

RIYADH: Billboard Arabia has announced the debut of ‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’. This exclusive studio session series combines Arabic songs, modern music culture and innovative melodies, offering fans of all ages an immersive audio-visual experience. 

‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’ is a journey of discovery, where Arab artists seamlessly fuse their most popular songs with new musical arrangements and rhythms. This unique fusion aims to captivate fans, inviting them to reimagine how language and lyrics connect, along with the blend of different melodies, musical styles and cultural influences. Each session concludes with an exclusive interview, offering insights into the artists’ inspirations and creative process, and showcasing their artistry.  

‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’ breaks the traditional mould by allowing artists to reinterpret their favourite songs in inventive ways. From acoustic and live percussion performances to blends of Latin, Arab, Khaleeji, and Afro-Caribbean inspired beats, each session is a celebration of musical diversity.

 

 

Ahmed Saad, who has been in the top ten of the Billboard Arabia Artist 100 since its launch, takes center stage in the first session, delivering a sensational performance of his most popular songs. Get ready to witness Saad like you have never seen him before, as he introduces a unique fusion of musical styles inspired by various cultures and backgrounds. Accompanied by talented musicians, his songs take on fresh and different meanings, creating new memories for music lovers.  

With the MENA region being one of the fastest growing music hubs globally, this announcement reflects Billboard Arabia’s strategic vision of providing a platform to spotlight established and emerging Arab artists, celebrate their creativity, and connect them with a wider audience. It also follows the launch of Billboard Arabia’s digital platform and flagship charts in December 2023, including the Billboard Arabia Artist 100 and the Billboard Arabia Hot 100 for Arabic music.  

‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’ is now exclusively available on Billboard Arabia’s YouTube channel.  


‘Fascist Modi’ response by Google’s Gemini AI sparks diplomatic row

‘Fascist Modi’ response by Google’s Gemini AI sparks diplomatic row
Updated 26 February 2024
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‘Fascist Modi’ response by Google’s Gemini AI sparks diplomatic row

‘Fascist Modi’ response by Google’s Gemini AI sparks diplomatic row
  • Google AI model response said some of Modi’s policies were ‘characterized as fascist’ by experts
  • ‘Google’s response breached India’s law,” junior information tech minister said

LONDON: Google’s artificial intelligence model, Gemini, has sparked a diplomatic row with its response describing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government policies as “fascist.”

The controversy arose when Indian author and journalist Arnab Ray queried Gemini about Modi’s ideology, to which the bot responded that Modi was “accused of implementing policies some experts have characterized as fascist.”

This answer contrasted with responses to similar questions about former US President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who received more benign replies.

The controversial response sparked an immediate backlash in India, with accusations of bias and malice leveled against Google and its AI model.

Junior Information Technology Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar raised the issue, accusing Google of violating the country’s digital technology rules and various provisions of India’s criminal laws.

He emphasized that the unreliability of AI platforms could not be used as an excuse to exempt them from Indian laws.

“The Government has said this before — I repeat for attention of @GoogleIndia … Our Digital Nagriks (citizens) are NOT to be experimented on with ‘unreliable’ platforms/algos/model … ‘Sorry Unreliable’ does not exempt from the law,” he wrote on X.

Google responded by stating that it had addressed the problem and was working to improve the system, clarifying that “Gemini is built as a creativity and productivity tool and may not always be reliable.”

This incident comes after Google had to issue an apology and suspend some of Gemini’s tasks last week when the model depicted specific white figures, such as the US Founding Fathers, or groups like Nazi-era German soldiers, as people of color.

This move was seen by experts as an overcorrection to long-standing racial bias problems in AI, prompting fresh concerns about the issue.

In a similar incident earlier this month, social media platform X stated that the Indian government had ordered it to take down posts expressing support for farmers in north India demanding higher crop prices.

While complying with the orders, X expressed disagreement, citing concerns about curtailed freedom of expression.


Netflix-AFAC’s Women in Film training program deemed big success

Netflix-AFAC’s Women in Film training program deemed big success
Updated 26 February 2024
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Netflix-AFAC’s Women in Film training program deemed big success

Netflix-AFAC’s Women in Film training program deemed big success
  • ‘Truly inspiring’ initiative concluded with visit to production facility in Madrid
  • 37 women took part in project that aims to support development of industry

LONDON: The inaugural film industry training program launched by Netflix for young Arab women has garnered praise as a “truly inspiring” success.

In collaboration with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, the Women in Film: Introduction to the Creative Process initiative concluded with a visit to Netflix’s production hub in Tres Cantos, Madrid, following a series of workshops across the Middle East region.

“The program was a great experience not only for the quality of information being taught, but also for meeting influential women from different areas in this industry and providing an interactive and fun experience,” said Maha Hani, a participant from Saudi Arabia, who was among 37 women recently concluding the initiative in Madrid.

“Seeing the drive and initiative by Netflix and AFAC to provide opportunities for great stories by talented women all over the world is truly inspiring,” she added.

The program began in November with three-day workshops held in Dubai, Jeddah, and Cairo, offering participants mentorship from established female directors in various aspects of filmmaking, including scriptwriting.

Participants visited Netflix’s content hub during the final leg, expanding their network through engagements with industry professionals and talks with prominent organizations and government bodies.

The participants also had the opportunity to have mentoring sessions with producer Emma Lustres (“Cell 211,” “Retribution”), and showrunner Gema R. Neira (“Nacho,” “High Seas,” “Farina”).

Netflix collaborated with AFAC to support aspiring female directors aged 21 to 27 as part of its broader commitment to promoting gender equality in the Arab cinema industry through its Because She Created initiatives.

Announced in August, the program welcomed candidates from the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait.

Rima Mismar, AFAC’s executive director, spoke of the organization’s ongoing commitment to breaking stereotypes and championing women’s voices across the Arab region.

She said: “We are extremely pleased with this renewed partnership with Netflix, through which we can build on this commitment and instill technical capacities in young women talents of the region.”

Nuha El Tayeb, Netflix’s content director for Turkey, the Middle East, and Africa, highlighted the program’s role in developing talents and supporting the growth of the industry’s next generation, adding: “We are proud of the impactful work we’re delivering with long-standing partners like AFAC, who have experience creating tangible opportunities for underrepresented voices and making the industry more inclusive and accessible.”