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Thu 3 Feb 2011 12:00 AM

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Tight lips sink ships?

Piracy is dead! Long live OSN! Or so the press gathered at Dubai’s Atlantis Hotel in December were led to believe.

Tight lips sink ships?
Tight lips sink ships?

Piracy is dead! Long live OSN! Or so the press gathered at Dubai’s Atlantis Hotel in December were led to believe. The 19th of that month saw the pay TV firm switch its conditional access system, forcing would-be priates to walk the broadcast plank and buy the network’s content. Intial signs appear to be good, if vague: I was informed by OSN’s director of corporate development Medea Nocentini that daily sales were up 300 per cent across the region.

But how long can the network sustain this growth? Late last month I sat down to chat with Value Partners’ Santino Saguto, who stressed the importance of football in the successes of pay TV operators across the world. Italy’s Sky, for example, similarly shut the door on piracy some years ago, at a time when a huge majority of viewers were watching its content illegally. However the News Corp-owned broadcaster had a significant trick up its sleeve: at the same time as updating its set-top boxes (STB) it bought the rights to Calcio, Italian football.

Anyone wanting to watch Inter Milan, Juventus, Roma et al battle it out for the Serie A title – and anyone who’s visited Italy will know how many people that is – would have to do so via a Sky Italia STB. Hey presto: sales rocketed, making Sky billions in the process. France’s Canal+ gets around 60 per cent of its business from premium football content, and BSkyB’s benchmark English Premier League (EPL) broadcasting needs no introduction.

OSN doesn’t have any premium football content, forgoing its inflated price tag in preference for rubgy, golf and other marginal sports. The network will no doubt counter that its large catalogue of hit US shows and Hollywood blockbusters is enough to get people paying the subscription fee. But with a limited expat community and no football content, how much longer can the network continue to see an improvement in its bottom line as a result of this brave but precarious move?

In a wider sense, has ADMC’s huge EPL outlay effectively killed off any hope of a stable pay TV market in the region? It will be interesting to track OSN’s performance over the coming months, and Digital Broadcast, and digitalproductionme.com, will be there every step of the way.

Sean Williams, is the editor of Digital Broadcast.

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