IP&TV News talks to Samer Abdin, a founder of Istikana, an OTT providing Arabic content
IP&TV News: Hi Samer. You’re a regular attendee of and advocate for TV Connect MENA (2-3 November 2015 Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai). What’s so important about this event for the region?
Samer Abdin: It focuses on what we do – that nexus of online, TV, telco, and Internet. That makes it an extremely relevant event. There are other conferences that are very telco focused, or very hardware focussed, and others that are very pure TV and content focussed. This is the one where all the three elements meet.
What have been the main developments in MENA OTT over the last twelve months since TV Connect MENA 2014?
The market’s definitely grown. We’ve seen a couple of competitors come in: it’s heating up. I think the nascent viewing habits of consumers are starting to make themselves felt in terms of online viewing. And one feeds the other, so the more providers there are the more people get attracted, and it starts to broaden out as a market.
I think we’ll soon see more and more broadcasters and telcos try and get into the game as well. I think the likes of NBC and Eutelsat will probably start to take OTT a lot more seriously than they have so far.
Where would you pinpoint where the opportunity is in MENA OTT?
The opportunity is it hasn’t really started yet. We’re in the early stages compared to many other markets. You’ve got places like the US where Netflix alone is approaching 50% penetration. There are differences in terms of what MENA audiences might want to watch and how they want to pay for it and what they want to pay – there are all sorts of nuances there – but fundamentally consumers want to watch relevant content in the most convenient way possible. The trick is to provide that. The opportunity is to capture that 300 million and to get them on broad.
What challenges need to be overcome to really reach and engage that number?
There are a few. These include copyright laws and regulations and payments and willingness to pay. There is an education job among consumers to show them how much better a legal service is in terms of quality and range and convenience, and hopefully that will swing them over. That’s certainly what ultimately won the game in the US and Europe – it was much more a convenience than a regulatory play.
I think the onus is on us as providers to find the combinations of content and price and to create an offer that will entice people – and there are several, I think, rather than just one. Payment does have a long way to go, as does copyright. Other markets had those challenges and overcame them. I don’t see why MENA’s so different.