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OSN, the region’s leading entertainment network, has been providing premium content to subscribers ever since it was established. In the times of COVID-19, the company was one of the few who were able to leverage the situation. In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Zahra Zayat, senior vice president – OTT digital and telco, OSN explains how the company aims to retain subscribers in the aftermath of the pandemic.

You have recently joined OSN. Can you tell us more about your new role at the company?

I’ve joined OSN with an extensive experience in both regional Pay TV and OTT. Now serving as senior vice president – OTT, digital and telco on the network’s leadership team, I lead strategy on the digital and streaming business in addition to business development and partnerships with major telecommunication players in the region.

The streaming and broadcasting businesses are few of the sectors that are benefitting from the COVID-19 pandemic. How did OSN leverage this situation? Did you introduce new services or provide more access to consumers?

It has been a very tough period for everyone, and I am extremely proud with what we “the OSN’ers” have achieved. The launch of our new OSN streaming platform in April came just in time to satisfy the needs of the millions of people locked down during the pandemic. While schools were closed and kids were staying at home, we announced the launch of Disney+ originals exclusively on our platform. In a nutshell, OSN turned into the main hub supplying the region with premium Hollywood content including Disney+, HBO, Universal, Sony, in addition to Arabic, kids and documentary, at a time when consumers were just sitting home looking for content to keep them entertained.

We also took advantage of the lockdown period and strengthened our tie ups with our major partners in the region. We partnered with over 15 telcos across MENA on direct carrier billing to give our subscribers the option to pay through their mobile and to also increase our market share among the segment with low credit card penetration. In addition to telcos, we have branched into financial services, e-commerce platforms and other industries that allow us to maximize reach with the latest being the launch of our partnership with Dubai Airports.

The launch of our new branding, new OSN streaming service, Disney+ originals, and the comprehensive portfolio of exclusive Hollywood content, all fall under the umbrella of a strategic decision to strengthen and reinforce our position as the region’s leading entertainment network.

What does OSN’s collaboration with telcos entail exactly? Are there any new collaborations in the pipeline?

The inclusion of various OTT platform subscriptions bundled with 5G, data, and recharge plans has become essential for the success of telco products and hence partnering with telcos has become to many a win-win recipe. Telcos have now realized that voice revenue is disappearing and is being cannibalized by OTTs like WhatsApp, Facetime, Hangouts, etc. With the launch of 5G, the only way to drive preference to the telco service apart from continuing to push tactical discounts, is content in the form of OTT video on demand, gaming and music. Bundling a strong OTT product with mobile plans is what will help the telco operators and ISPs incentivize the customer to move from a 150 SAR plan to 500 SAR plan, for example. In addition to that, it helps achieve higher stickiness contributing to better ARPUs and lower churn.

As of now, we have launched with over 15 telcos on DCB and we tied up with many of them on hard and soft bundles. As OSN streaming is a premium offering, we are hard bundled with high ARPU 5G and postpaid plans in addition to prepaid customers on autorenewal. The main KPI here is in engagement and that’s what differentiates us from other players in the market. We engage with our partners and support them in pushing the product trough marketing, acquisition journey and the right tech integration.  

DCB has already been proven as a successful tool especially in areas and countries where credit card penetration is low and we have capitalized on that. Our objective is to cover 10% of the MENA region on DCB with all operators before the end of the year. Also there are third party payment platforms that also facilitate time to market and help navigate through complex national regulations, so we are leveraging those in challenging markets.

Amid the fierce competition at the level of OTTs, how is OSN distinguishing itself?

Today we see more international players coming into the market and that makes it tough for everyone. However, as a platform born and growing in the Middle East, we understand the market and the need to localize our content offering, improve the platform look and feel, introduce different modes of payment apart from credit cards, and step into original productions.

As the region’s leading entertainment business, we have combined the best of the western and that of the Arabic, and secured unique and exclusive rights for our new and exciting digital streaming platform. Earlier this year we renewed our content partnerships with the biggest studios in the world including Disney, HBO, Universal, Paramount, Viacom and MGM to achieve the quickest ‘first-to-air’ rights for blockbuster movies and same-time-as-US broadcast of series, such as Westworld, Killing Eve and Grey’s Anatomy. In addition, OSN brings a wide variety of exclusively curated Arabic content, documentaries with National Geographic and Discovery, music, and comedy.

OSN’s enviable streaming library boasts thousands of hours of universally acclaimed movies and series featuring some of the world’s most binge-watched and awarded content such as ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Chernobyl’, ‘His Dark Materials’, ‘Watchmen’, ‘Ramy’, and ‘Silicon Valley’. Moreover, we selectively curate our content offering for Arabic audiences, which boasts the hugely popular Pan-Arab Drama ‘Ma Fiyyi’, Chicago Street and Turkish Rom-Com ‘Alhob Warta’.

In addition, we’re currently producing original non-scripted Arabic shows that are relevant for the region. We were hoping to have these shows ready by now but unfortunately COVID-19 delayed these productions so we will have to wait until September or October. We are also working on a great original series for the second part of this year. In July we have released a fantastic movie called ‘The Perfect Candidate’ by the first female Saudi Director, Haifaa Al-Mansour which has had great reviews, so we look forward to our customers being able to watch this from the comfort of their own home.

What strategy do you intend to implement in the post-COVID-19 era?

The reality is that once businesses and schools reopen, consumers will have less time to watch TV. Although it’s been a good market for us and other OTT players, the rapid increase in subscriptions during the crisis raises the question of how sticky new subscribers will be. This suggests that subscribers will be making choices about which services to keep, and that as long as they have something they would like to continue watching, they’ll continue to subscribe. However, competition for consumer’s time will only increase as other aspects of life return into the pre-crisis normal.

As OSN we have implemented an aggressive retention strategy that allows us to hold on to our customers. We realized that we have a critical window to persuade our subscribers to stay and we acted on that. Our plan included tactical marketing initiatives with retention tools in addition to strategic initiatives derived from understanding the needs of each segment within our base in order to help us secure a bigger market share on the long run. Be it Gen Z, Gen X/ cable users, homeschooling parents, or sports fans, each segment is receptive to a certain approach, be it discounts, recommendation tools, first releases, premium exclusive content, etc.

Our promise to our subscribers remains simplicity, ease of use, access anytime and anywhere on multiple devices, premium exclusive content and a one stop shop for entertainment for all age groups. We improved our tie ups with all major studios and we broadened our service to cover 17 countries across MENA bringing exceptional value for our customers. The best and freshest movies and series in full exclusivity, leading Arabic content, amazing lifestyle shows, captivating documentaries, top entertainment brands are all under one roof at an incredible price of $9.50 per month.

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