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TV has impact on one’s thought process Interest groups driving the channel explosion in region

TELEVISION viewing experience has drastically changed in the recent past with new technology and networks. As TV gets more interactive, overlapping with the Internet realm, viewers have wider choices and greater control over content.  In this interview, Hamad Malik, the Chief Marketing Officer of pay-TV network OSN, discusses the developments in TV networks and how their affect TV consumers. He also touches upon the politics of TV, with the Arab world boasting close to 800 channels, while less than 20 of them are profitable. This growth in the channels speaks of the growing power of TV in influencing societies, and the attempts by political and social entities to climb on to this bandwagon to flog their ideas.

Read on and find out what the most consumed TV contents in the region are, and how despite growing concerns of a pervasive global culture, TV still caters to local tastes. Famous Hollywood stars acting in TV movies is seen at least by some as an indication of the domination of mini screen over the big screen.
 

Question: What is online viewing platform all about? In what ways is it going to change TV experience? Has this technology been established in the developed countries? If yes, how has the response been?
Answer: Online TV viewing is a huge reality these days. With people always on the move with their mobiles and not staying in front of their TVs at home, having an online platform gives them the ability to watch the content they love wherever and whenever they want. That is also something we are trying to provide through OSN-Play, affording the people the opportunity to watch the content that they love wherever they are, if they are at home they can watch those programs on TV and if they are outside their homes they can watch those programs on their ipads, mobile phones and so forth.

Over the top (OTT) viewing is a well established technology in Europe and other parts of the developed world and the response to it is quite good because consumer needs are changing. Not everybody is in front of the TV all the time. It is a technology that is quite meaningful and very relevant considering the lifestyles of the customers. 
 

Q: What kind of channels/programs has the most viewer consumption in this region? Why?
A: There is a lot of appetite for top class Hollywood movies here. There is so much consumption here that we get all the leading movies just three months after their theatrical release. To stay ahead of competition we get the movies two years before of any other channel in the region.
Moreover, we are also aware of the need for Arabic content in the region, providing movies and CDs. When it comes to Arabic content, we are trying to create content that is differentiable from what is already in existence in the free- to-air environment.
Another important viewer segment in the region are the Asian communities - Filipino, Indian and Pakistani population. In terms of content we have a very diverse range and within each segment there are some channels and certain content that is very popular, but overall, movies are a huge driver, aside the factual and information related programs like NatGeo, Discovery and so forth that are also very popular.
 

Q: TV is one of the main conduits for the expansion of global culture. Do you think TV is impacting values and cultures in a big way?
A: Basically, TV is the window to the world in a way. Today, an average TV viewer is highly aware of diverse cultures and tourist spots across the world. Take for instance a channel called the Travel Channel through which you could be sitting at home and see what Thailand or New Zealand or whatever country looks like.
The Food Network is another example of what types of food viewers can see in different countries right in front of their TV sets at home. Food is one area where there’s a lot of cross cultural interest, and everyone is eager to try out new exotic flavors. With TV, now you have a lot of idea on what is happening in the rest of the world. From that point of view TV has an impact on one’s thought process. 
 

Q: From a business point of view, you would welcome more television viewing from your customers. However, studies are showing that television viewing affects mental development in children and is bad for health in general. How do you see this problem, and what is your advice to viewers?
Technology in and of itself cannot be good or bad. Look at the example or a car which is very useful. If you drive it at an uncontrolled level of speed, it can result in an accident, but however, it does not mean that cars are bad or evil, it’s the way it is utilized that makes it what it is.
A: TV being viewed as a window to the world includes using it as a source of knowledge acquisition. For instance programs on Discovery, Disney and so forth are very useful and educational for both adults and children. But then it also depends on the customer to ensure that children are watching the right material and within the right time frame so it does not impact their health. Well, if you ask what we are doing, we as a responsible company continue to educate our customers on how to balance entertainment with the rest of their lifestyles.  
 

Q: There seems to have been an explosion of channels in the recent past with an overload of consumables in every genre, be it news, entertainment and what have you. What is driving this growth?
A: As you might know, quite a few of those channels are unprofitable. Most of those channels out there come out for a variety of reasons. Some are there for political reasons, personal agendas and so forth. In the Arab world alone there are about 750 to 800 channels and only twenty or so of them are profitable or have good content.  There are different interest groups driving the channel explosion in the region.
 

Q: What do you think about the claim that TV is bringing violence and sex into our homes? Is there any way that TV networks like your self can play a positive role in controlling this trend through some kind of restrictions?
A: We feel that it is the responsibility of the media to provide choice. It is also our responsibility to ensure that there are proper controls in place, so in our OSN boxes, we have a feature called Parental Control and through utilizing that feature, parents can control what their kids watch. So if you want to block certain channels or content that gives you the ability to do that and only OSN as a network that has the capability and we feel that it is very important for us to provide this feature to the society so that they can watch what they want to watch as well as exercise control over what content families and kids watch.
 

Q: What is your market share in Kuwait, and how does it compare with other countries in the region?
A: We have experienced 30% growth in the last two to two and a half years. Our goal for 2014 is also 30% growth, given our numbers. We are going to have three more retail locations in the first quarter of this year with our focus on growing our subscriber base by around thirty percent. We have two showrooms and six kiosks which makes our overall footprint in Kuwait eight locations. Our presence in any Gulf country depends on how big the country is geographically, the potential of the business as well as various other factors. Every country has a unique set of circumstances; some will have more outlets or fewer outlets, especially big countries like Saudi Arabia. If it is a small country it will have fewer outlets.
 

Q: How do you look at the Kuwait market and are there any specific trends or preferences between the various categories of people based on nationality, financial standard and so on?
A: Obviously. Everybody wants to watch content that they grew up watching, content that is in their language and so forth. Countries like Kuwait have many different nationalities like Indians, Pakistanis, Lebanese, Jordanians, Filipinos and so forth. Which is why provide content in the English Language, Hindi, Urdu and Pinoy to cater to the diverse nationalities. We are reaching out to the segments and providing them with entertainment. We try to focus on content that is entertaining and fit for family consumption. We continue to provide a diverse range of content. For instance there are quite a few channels which have very educational content that are very useful for children, housewives, mothers and so forth. We focus on that and we are also trying to develop content that is good for family consumption in general. We provide choice to customers and also provide technology to control those choices which makes us feel a sense of responsibility in that regard.    
 

Q: Tell us something about the link between TV networks and film studios. You have exclusive rights with major studios of the world. How are these deals worked out and how do you mutually benefit from them?
A: By getting these exclusive rights we have the ability to bring the content at the same time as the US to the consumers in this part of the world which is very important as today’s consumers everywhere, this region included, want to watch everything at the same time like consumers in the United States and United Kingdom. By having these rights, we are able to provide quality entertainment to our consumers.
 

Q: Are we moving into an era where film studios might start producing films exclusively for TV audience? Yes, there are home theater movies already coming out, but will this take a more serious turn with bigger budgets as TV audience are increasingly becoming global?
A: Yes, they do that. There is a lot of content like CDs, short films and so forth. There are quite a few examples in the past for instance if you look at TV series like House of Cards, big Hollywood actors like Evans Percy and others are now featuring in those movies. There are quite a few series and short movies where these big names are now acting as they understand that there is an audience out there that appreciates the type of work that they do. There is a lot of investment coming in, the quality has increased quite a bit in the last few years and it keeps increasing as the big stars keep working to entertain the TV audiences.
 

Q: What are the various service categories you provide as a channel?
A: We provide TV entertainment on televisions and online through OSN-Play which is our online digital platform. We provide the services for Arabic speakers, English speakers, Filipinos as well as an Asian segment for Indians and Pakistanis.
 

Q: Do you have any plans for coverage of the upcoming Sochi2014 Winter Olympics?
A: No, we have a lot of sports channels but no plans for the Winter Olympics. 
 

Q: What can we expect in the near future that would give us a better television experience?
A: Kuwait is an important market in the Middle East. And if this market is anything to go by, the areas of focus, if we were to look at the first quarter of this year, is on retail expansion and in the next quarter, there would be three or more retail outlets we plan to open. And in terms of content, we have tried to bring our content very close to the Kuwaiti taste which is something that we’d continue to do. From our marketing perspective as well, what we are trying to do is to engage the customers of Kuwait in a meaningful way.
 

OSN has the most comprehensive portfolio of exclusive rights from all the major studios including Warner Brothers, Paramount, Fox, Disney, Sony, MGM, Universal, HBO and DreamWorks and offers access to the world’s leading television brands including Disney channel, Sky News, Discovery Network and Nat Geo. Launched in August 2013, OSN Pehla brings the best of Bollywood movies and premium cricket, including exclusive telecast rights of international tournaments such as the ICC Cricket World Cup and Indian cricket, through leading sports channels OSN Sports Cricket HD and Ten Cricket.

biography

Hamad Malik is the Chief Marketing Officer of pay-TV network OSN. His career began with market research projects in US. He then moved to Pakistan where he was involved in marketing and PR in the defense industry before joining LG Electronics in the UAE in 1995. At LG, Hamad spearheaded the marketing and corporate communications department and led a network that spanned 78 countries in Middle East and Africa region. Hamad was the brand architect of the launch of the LG brand in the region. Through his efforts LG experienced 10-fold growth during his tenure and became one of the most popular Arab youth brands.

Hamad joined OSN in 2011 with a clear goal of redefining the perception and brand values of OSN, resulting in the company experiencing double digit subscriber growth and significant up-lift in all critical brand indicators. Hamad has a broad based background in marketing and communications in highly competitive markets, in industrial goods, consumer durables, mobile communications, IT and Pay-TV industries.  He is a regular and active speaker on international and regional marketing, PR and CSR conferences and forums.  

By Iddris Seidu
Arab Times Staff


By: Hamad Malik

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