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Not long ago, satellite television was being written off as an outdated medium of consuming content that would not survive the digital age. Orbit Showtime Network - OSN, is a long-standing satellite provider serving the MENA region for almost 25 years. OSN welcomed Patrick Tillieux as chief executive officer just over a year ago. Since his appointment, he has made profound changes to OSN, to which he refers as a “radical evolution” of the company. Tillieux has a much more positive approach towards satellite TV. He believes that there is still potential in the market and intends to continue work on both traditional and digital methods of consuming content.

OSN is harnessing the power of the digital age, catering for its younger audience with on-demand streaming services and lots of new original and licensed content. Tillieux refers to 2019 as a ‘storm’, a turbulent year for the company. In contrast, 2020 is about ‘form’, a year to build foundations and create new partnerships. Finally, OSN’s CEO believes 2021 and beyond will be the years where they ‘perform’ at the highest level and begin to reap the rewards.  Telecom Review managed to sit down with Tillieux to talk about a new exciting partnership, a brand new logo, and OSN’s overall transformation.

In the era of OTT players and competition in the TV marketplace, how is OSN competing?

When I look back at the past, and I look at Orbit and Showtime separately, I see that we have been in the business for 25 years. We are a long-term player in the industry. I think that is important to underscore. What we do today is actually transforming this company. OSN, a company that was known mainly for satellite and cable distribution, is pivoting towards what young audiences actually want and that is streaming. We pride ourselves on our diverse content and customer-centricity – we are the only business in the region that provides our customers with both OTT and linear options. We have unmatched leverage with studios such has HBO, Disney, Universal and Paramount, to deliver exclusive content across both OTT and Linear and can give access to over 25 markets. OSN has successfully gained rights to offer its customers the richest variety of block-buster movies and awarded series across both OTT and Linear.

For sure, we do not abandon satellite to transform the business into the digital, but instead we will continue working hard on both. It will be an end-to-end proposal by OSN that will cater to everyone’s needs. That’s our aim. It’s a dual-play between traditional and modern ways of consuming television.

We are also doubling down on Arabic content and localization at OSN by providing customers with series that are dubbed in Arabic, as well as acquiring exclusive rights to films that highlight the region such as the Saudi movie The Perfect Candidate, made by Haifaa Al-Mansour, which we will broadcast soon.

WAVO is your on-demand streaming service. Has it been a success?

WAVO has been around for many years. When I look back, and I must be objective here, I think that we arrived too early into the market. We were one of the first ones. Technology was not where it is now, and the ways to bring a streaming service like this to the market were unknown. We had an okay start, but we were never able to reignite it to its full potential. However, we have now put the booster on. We are reinvigorating this business and make out streaming proposal what OSN is meant to be, in the fullest extent.

Very soon, we will come out with new initiatives that will reinforce the new way of consuming OSN.

Where does satellite TV fit into the future of television?

Satellite has been around for many years, and I am convinced it is here to stay. Keep in mind that there are many audiences who only have access to free-to-air television by means of a satellite dish. Furthermore many audiences won’t have great broadband connectivity in an immediate future, so for them the only way to access tv is through satellite. Some people say satellite is in structural decline and it doesn’t fit into the future. I disagree, there is a structural change towards broadband and streaming, but satellite TV won’t disappear soon. At OSN, we are still developing some initiatives to try to harness the full potential of this market, and not because we are stubborn.

So our development hinges on a fast development of our streaming business, a consolidation of our satellite business, and – we haven’t talked about it yet – the partnerships with telco distributors in the region. I firmly believe that a closer cooperation between cable and mobile operators and OSN will benefit both sides.

There are many other challenges that the industry faces, with piracy, rights restrictions and so on. How is OSN tackling these issues?

Piracy is something that has always existed. I started my career in Riyadh 35 years ago and I found it very exciting to go to the souk at night and buy music cassettes. I must have bought a thousand of them, and not a single one was legit, although I was barely aware of it. It shows it is a matter of education. However let me very clear, piracy is stealing. It is fundamentally wrong. It affects the media business, music as well as video. It is a slap in the face of all creators and makers of content, and of course it has financial consequences. Trying to quantify the piracy business here in the MENA region, I estimate it is more than half a billion dollars.

This should not be the case. We are tackling this in different ways. First, as an industry, we lobby local authorities through industry associations to address the piracy problem by way of rules, and policing. At OSN we further track piracy shops and internet sites, and shut them down one way or another with the help of local authorities. We will continue to do that to protect our content in the digital age.

In relation to a more current and global challenge, Covid-19, what does this mean for OSN and how are you stepping up to the battle?

It’s a strange one for us. As a result of the spread of COVID-19, you have this new reality of stay-at-home and companies working from home, including us. We are affected in our sales ability with direct point-of-sales closed in malls, but at the same time, we can see a huge surge in consumption of content, which of course translates into less churn. In streaming we do see an uplift in sales. All in all, it’s still early days to see what the outcome will be. This being said we are happy that we can contribute to a happier situation in some way, by stepping up and bring more content. We are making the content that we have in the pipeline available earlier, so that we can enrich the content offer to our subscribers during this time. 

Does OSN have any plans to produce more original content as well as licensing content?

To give you a simple answer – yes, definitely. 85 percent of our subscribers, be it digital or cable, are Arabic speaking and of local or regional descent. Strangely enough, our investment in content doesn’t totally reflect this. There is no doubt about the strength of our western content. There is no debate around that. However, regarding Arabic speaking content, this is an area where we can and will do better. For example, we are now working on the Arabic version of ‘Come Dine With Me’ which promises to be quite something. We have brought the show ‘Ramy’ by Egyptian comedian Ramy Youssef to stream on WAVO as a good example of how we are curating for a younger, more connected customer.

There will be original Arabic productions on OSN, and they will be meaningful and relevant to that huge part of our audience. It’s not a matter of if, but when. And it will be very soon.

The development of partnerships is often a great way of expanding and reigniting business. Are there any important partnerships or collaborations on the horizon that you can share with us?

First of all, OSN is technically the child of a partnership. Orbit and Showtime have formed OSN 10 years ago. So our company is built upon partnership to begin with.

Our first partners are content partners. Very soon, we will be announcing a new partnership with Disney and it will be much bigger than anything that we have done before.

Our partnerships with international content suppliers, be it Universal, MGM, Paramount, HBO or Nickelodeon, are long-standing partnerships. Some of them date back 25 years to the very beginning. They know who we are, and we have a very trusted relationship.  We are now going one step beyond that, by expanding our partnerships into the streaming world.

Can you tell us anymore about your particular partnership with Disney?

As of 9th of April we are carrying Disney+ content on OSN, totally exclusive to the Middle-East. This is a huge step for us and one we are very excited about. Disney+ has been such a great success in the US, and Disney content is loved across the world. We have now transformed our partnership with Disney into something newer and bigger in order to carry all the Disney+ Originals . This is a huge step in the existence of OSN, and I am confident that it will transform this company.

How does OSN contribute to the telco industry?

Our other great partners are the telcos – cable operators as well as mobile operators – with whom we have still so much to develop together.

In line with the changing behavior of the market telcos are in a greater need to bundle with content offers to drive preference into their service, be it by means of linear tv or OTT. I believe we are but at the doorstep of the convergence that the industry has been talking about for so many years. Bundling with the right OTT service will generate massive return on investment for telcos through improving stickiness, uplifting ARPU and increasing the average life of subscribers.

Our research shows that households are ready and prepared to subscribe to an OTT service that offers a variety of quality content, fresh content with strong kids, movies and series propositions as main drivers. This is where the great value of OSN streaming service comes into play by being a hub for international world class brands that have proven to eat out the share of other players in the market.

Taking all of this into account, what are your main goals and objectives for 2020?

Allow me take you back to 2019. 2019 was a very turbulent year for us. You didn’t hear from us or talk about us. Admittedly, we didn’t have much to say. As an analogy, we were in intensive care, in need of surgery. We needed to make some radical changes throughout last year. We dropped sports, which was a conscious and economic decision, but one that was very difficult to make. We also had to figure out a way how we could expand our great content rights geared towards satellite to include OTT and pivot to this dual play of linear TV and streaming. It took us a full year to really transform ourselves, from the inside out. We had to go through a deep restructuring to make sure that we can adapt OSN to the new world. That is what 2019 was about for us, and we call it our ‘storm’ year.

2020 is the year of ‘form’. This year, we are building the new foundations of OSN, in particular with our enhanced and re-invigorated streaming service. To embody this step we have changed our logo to one that is more dynamic in tune with the times of today.

2021 and beyond, those will be the years where we ‘perform’. We will reap the benefits of all the changes we have implemented.

This transformation is what I call a radical evolution. ‘Radical’ because it touches everything in the company, and because of the deep changes in the way we bring our quality content to new audiences on all screens.  ‘Evolution’ because nobody wants a revolution and so much goodwill and trust in our brand has been built over the years.

That is my objective, and OSN is well placed to reach such objective.

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