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Mon 7 Jan 2019 12:53 PM

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2019 Outlook: Arabic streaming, cinema to grow more popular this year

There will continue to be healthy demand for English-language free-to-airchannels, particularly in countries like the UAE, writes Sanjay Raina, General Manager & Senior Vice President FOX Networks Group MENA & Pakistan

2019 Outlook: Arabic streaming, cinema to grow more popular this year
New World Arabic-language streaming may take off in 2019

There are several major trends we are seeing for our industry’s evolution in 2019 in the UAE and region. First is the continued dominance of linear and free-to-air (FTA) TV across the MENA region.

It delivers a wide range of news and entertainment content to hundreds of millions of Arab households in their native language, despite there being certain gaps in FTA, such as the absence of international sports.

There will continue to be healthy demand for English-language FTA channels, particularly in countries like the UAE, with its large expat population, which is met by regional channels and local channels, such as the English language DMI channels.

When it comes to the financial health of the FTA industry, advertising revenues on linear are increasingly moving online. Media companies need to adapt accordingly.

The second trend we are seeing is this growing viewership traction on non-linear services, (eg) YouTube and OTT and a fragmentation of content preferences.  Emerging OTT formats, namely streaming, or SVoD, have seen a surge in penetration and demand in the MENA region over the last few years.

I have no doubt that high quality arab movies can travel far

International streaming services will continue to witness a steady expansion of viewership. One of their key drivers is their appeal to youth, who constitute the majority of the population in this region. Worldwide, the youth have adopted multi-device viewership with an insular viewership experience.

The UAE is at the forefront of the streaming trend in the region, due to several factors: a population with an early adopter mindset, high purchasing power, multi-linguistic audiences and high-speed internet connectivity. The infrastructure is also in place: the two telco providers in the UAE offer triple play services making the UAE the ideal model in which to launch streaming services.

We have recently launched our own streaming service for the region, Fox Plus, out of the UAE based on the highly successful experience we had with Fox Plus in other markets. Fox Plus will offer a wide range of curated programming from National Geographic documentaries to Fox Lifestyle shows, Baby TV, in addition to global TV series and movies.

Having said that, I see Arabic streaming services coming of age over the next year. Streaming cannot be limited to a foreign language in an Arabic-speaking region.

In addition to local or regional audiences, there is a large diaspora of Arabic speakers all over the world who have an appetite for homegrown content from their native countries.

The third trend relates to cinema. The lines between cinema, TV and online media consumption are increasingly blurring, and a large portion of TV content today is films. We are witnessing the enduring popularity of cinema, despite this emergence of new content formats.

There are still strong growth opportunities for pay tv in the region

With that, I believe that Arab cinema, to a large extent, is coming of age on an international scale. I have no doubt that high quality Arab movies can travel far around the globe and have the same appeal as their Hollywood counterparts. This is equally true for the UAE, where we are seeing the emergence of highly talented Emirati filmmakers, both men and women.

An Arab film industry able to compete at global levels will require an ecosystem with a strong distribution network. This ecosystem will nurture the development of a domestic film production industry, which will in turn give rise to a growing number of increasingly high quality films.

The fourth trend which we will witness is the (necessary) reinvention of Pay TV which has been facing headwinds and stagnation over the last few years. I see streaming as complementary to Pay TV and not as a replacement. There are still strong growth opportunities for Pay TV in the region, but this will require a mindset reset.  In this new world order, viewers can no longer be classified as subscribers who fulfill an economic transaction – which is a short-term relationship. Instead, they need to be seen as engaged consumers.


Sanjay Raina, General Manager & Senior Vice President FOX Networks Group MENA & Pakistan