OTT streaming in Middle East and North Africa ready for lift off

A large, youthful and technically savvy demographic should make the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) a rich zone for internet OTT (Over-The-Top) streaming services – and 2019 is shaping up to be the breakthrough.

OTT streaming in Middle East and North Africa ready for lift off
OTT streaming in Middle East and North Africa ready for lift off
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In MENA, OTT penetration is still at low levels due to constraints such as broadband quality and payment infrastructure. Low disposable incomes and piracy are also significant hurdles to OTT growth. Indeed, the region’s total OTT subscriptions reached about 5 million last year, according to IHS Markit, from a market potential of 400 million viewers.

This is anticipated to change rapidly as a number of new developments combine. At its heart is a clash between Netflix and locally grown OTT services, itself part of wider issues of realpolitik.

Netflix launched in the Middle East in 2016 and had amassed 1.7 million users as of last year ranking third in paid VOD behind Lionsgate-backed Starz Play and MBC’s Shahid Plus service.

Major pay-TV broadcasters, OSN and beIN, have also launched OTT services and there is further competition from Dubai-based Icflix, Kuala Lumpar-HQ’d Iflix, Selevision’s Seevii, PCCW-backed Viu and Amazon Prime Video.

Matters are being shaken up by the Saudi government which has ambitions to grow its media output. After taking majority ownership of MBC, the region's largest TV network, it instructed Saudi Telecom subsidiary, Intigral, to launch digital entertainment service, Jawwy TV. The service, which includes exclusive rights to the Saudi Professional soccer league until 2028, is also launching in Kuwait and Bharain with integration with Shahid Plus underway.

Ostensibly part of a national plan to beef up Saudi digital skills, the strategy is also designed to counter Qatar’s state-funded BeIN Media in promoting the nation to the wider world.

The proxy battle being played out by the Kingdom and Qatar is clear from the tussle over the pirating of BeIN Group’s sports and entertainment content by Saudi Arabia-based pirate outfit BeoutQ, which BeIN alleges is supported by the Saudi government.

Netflix has also had its fingers burnt for controversially removing an episode of comedy show Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj from its platform in the KSA, after a request from Saudi authorities.

Regardless, the success of international SVODs and the broadcaster-run OTT operations alike will be based on finding distribution partners and originating Arabic content.

That’s why Netflix first Arabic original, the series Jinn, is so important. The teenage supernatural drama featuring young Arab talent and created by a Lebanese producer is due later this year. In terms of carriage deals, Netflix has pacts with UAE telcos du and Virgin Mobile, and with OSN.

Jawwy TV meanwhile has a library of acquired Arabic content to which it may add its own productions produced by MBC Studios into which the Saudi owners are pumping money. Like Jinn, such productions will have to more away from the region’s prevailing telenovela-style entertainment if they are to reach the region’s massive youth population.

It’s also worth noting the digital infrastructure on which all this OTT activity rests. It is, by and large, a mobile play.

Qatar, ramping up its broadband networks ahead of hosting the World Cup in three year’s time, posted mobile download speeds of 59.57 in December 2018 – the fifth fastest in the world, according to Ookla’s widely accepted Speedtest. The UAE is not far behind with 48Mbps in 11th. Speeds in the Lebanon average 38 Mbps, Oman 34 Mbps, Kuwait 32 Mbps, Iran 30 Mbps and in 51st place is Saudi Arabia with 29.3 Mbps - still higher than the global average of 25 Mbps. Below this come Israel, Morocco and Tunisia around the 20-23 Mbps mark.

Fast fibre networks are far less prevalent in MENA although Israel posts a decent 75 Mbps (23rd in the global league table). The UAE is 38th with 50 Mbps, just below the worldwide average.

Taken together, the region is primed for OTT growth with Digital TV Research, putting this at 11 million SVOD subscribers by 2023. The geo-political situation makes the outlook difficult to predict with certainty but forging partnerships, expanding local content production and tackling piracy could all hold a key to unlocking future growth for the industry.

Posted by Adrian Pennington, technology journalist. February 7, 2019.

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Oman TV upgrades transmitter network to digital TV

Oman’s national broadcaster has begun upgrading its entire transmitter network to DVB-T2 digital terrestrial television using a turnkey system supplied by Rohde & Schwarz.

Posted by Chris Dickinson. 1st September 2017.

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MENA OTT revenues to quadruple by 2022

Middle East & North Africa OTT TV episodes and movies will generate revenues of $1.75 billion by 2022; more than quadruple the $428 million recorded in 2016, according to Digital TV Research.

Posted by Chris Dickinson. 1st September 2017.

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Florida station in HDradio first

Award-winning Florida radio station, WYCT-FM, has expanded its reach with the first Rohde & Schwarz HDradio transmitter in the US.

Posted by Chris Dickinson. 1st September 2017.

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DAB beats mobile broadband on costs

The EBU released a new technical review paper that claims that mobile broadband is not a realistic option for radio distribution compared to DAB.

Posted by Chris Dickinson. 1st September 2017.

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