‘Now, we can engage with our customers throughout the day,’ says OSN Group CEO on new Anghami-OSN+ deal

The deal, currently subject to regulatory approval, is expected to be completed before the end of the first quarter of 2024. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 December 2023
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‘Now, we can engage with our customers throughout the day,’ says OSN Group CEO on new Anghami-OSN+ deal

  • New company will be powered by an integrated technology platform

DUBAI: Last month, OSN Group announced an investment of $50 million in local audio streaming app Anghami, which will see its streaming service OSN+ and Anghami merge to form one entity.

The deal, currently subject to regulatory approval, is expected to be completed before the end of the first quarter of 2024, combining over 120 million Anghami registered users and more than 2.5 million OSN+ paying subscribers.

“The move helps us scale very quickly,” Joe Kawkabani, CEO of OSN Group, told Arab News.

The new company will be powered by an integrated technology platform on the back end, which will “allow us to be more agile in terms of serving our customers and giving them a superior technological experience,” he said.

OSN is, however, taking its time to decide what the front end will look like. Both brands have different strengths; OSN+ is well known for premium video content, particularly in the Gulf, while Anghami is well known in West Africa and Levant, Kawkabani added.

“We want to leverage the strength of both brands and take our time to see what our customers want and make decisions accordingly,” he said.

This means that the companies have not yet decided whether they will merge both apps into one or introduce content from either platform on the other or some combination of the two.

Part of the uncertainty is intentional, Kawkabani said. “We have massive scale and great content, so we have all the right ingredients to go effectively wherever we want from here.”

He added: “I like to create strategic moves that give us the flexibility, and honestly at that point, we have to just listen to what the customer wants.”

The deal also “gives us an opportunity, through the combination of music and video, to engage our customers throughout the day,” he said.

The time and method of consuming audio and video formats can vary vastly, with audiences listening to music and podcasts while commuting, for example, and tuning into video formats like TV shows and movies at the end of the day, he explained.

“Now, we can engage with our customers throughout the day, and that will help us build a very robust foundation for our business,” he added.

And that is what ultimately matters to OSN. As Kawkabani put it: “We care a lot about engaged and happy customers.”

Approximately 37 percent of OSN’s customers in the Gulf are purely cord-cutters, while 23 percent are primarily traditional TV viewers and the remaining 40 percent are hybrid viewers, meaning that they consume content on streaming platforms as well as linear TV channels, Kawkabani explained.

The company has made several investments to cater to these various segments, such as launching an upgraded version of the OSNtv box this June, which provides both live TV and streaming channels through one device.

Western content performs extremely well in the Middle East, said Kawkabani. Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” for example, broke the 2023 record for advanced ticket sales in Saudi Arabia.

OSN has capitalized well on this success, building exclusive partnerships with international studios such as HBO, NBC Universal, and Paramount.

When it comes to original content, the streamer wants to do more but is focused on quality over quantity, and that takes “time and patience” to build the kind of slate that can sit comfortably with other premium shows in its library, said Kawkabani.

Its first original feature film, “Yellow Bus,” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year where it was one of the 26 titles featured in TIFF’s Discovery program.

Kawkabani was reluctant to name a number when it came to upcoming originals “because managing volume on a streaming service is different than managing volume on a linear service,” with the former allowing streamers to produce based on audience feedback and the latter requiring broadcasters to account for the number of hours they need to fill.

He said: “There is no fixed percentage we’re working towards, but we’re going to keep on increasing year on year, quarter over quarter as we find new projects.”

Although global companies like Netflix produce hundreds of originals every year — with several local partnerships now in effect in the Middle East — Kawkabani remains unfazed.

“What they do doesn’t dictate what we do,” he said.

“We don’t try to emulate or follow the footsteps of others. We believe that from a local perspective, we have a better vantage point. We are from the region,” he added.

Bringing together its array of Western as well as regional content — such as Turkish shows dubbed in Arabic that are popular among audiences — with its local background, Kawkabani views OSN as a “gateway” for international companies in the region.

He also believes there is an opportunity in the Middle East for “premium local stories” and that is where “OSN can play a role in producing and broadcasting.”

The need for a “strong local streamer” is critical, especially as the number of streaming services increases, he said.

“Being a successful streamer and offering content worthy of subscriptions — or their (consumers’) time and engagement — is very hard, so we feel that we need to be one of the top two or three apps that customers use frequently and repeatedly,” he concluded.


Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

Updated 23 February 2024
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Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

MIAMI: The Future Investment Initiative Priority Summit in Miami brought together experts from various facets of the media industry on Friday for a panel discussion titled “Captivated by Content: How Brands are Adapting to Trends in Media Consumption.”

The key for any media owner is knowing their audience, but that audience is constantly evolving.

Sam Englebardt, founding general partner of Galaxy Interactive who has been a key investor in the gaming industry, said: “It used to be that we were catering to younger males … and now it’s pretty much the whole world.”

One of the problems with understanding audiences is doing so through data, said Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia.

“We’re entering this era of tyranny of the data,” he said, adding that the idea that if you cannot measure something it does not exist is a delusion.

As technology has become more pervasive, said Englebardt, “it’s now more possible than ever to really be everywhere they (audiences) are on whichever platform they have, so what are you going to make that people are going to care about, and how do you build a world that they want to spend conceivably all of their time in?”

However, it can be detrimental if people spend more time in virtual worlds than in the real one.

John Hanke, founder and CEO of mobile apps firm Niantic, is focused on building immersive experiences powered by augmented reality.

As a parent of three, he has struggled with determining how much screen time is acceptable for them, he said.

“It was the thing that motivated me to start thinking about video games that can take place out in the world,” he added.

“It’s up to us to think about how we evolve that technology to help us be better humans and be out in the world interacting with one another, and thankfully, technology is headed in that direction with augmented reality wearable devices.”

The worlds of media and entertainment are starting to exist outside screens, and brands, of course, want a spot.

Before streaming services launched, brands would have 30-second spots between shows and movies, but now they want to be part of the “content conversation where they want to subsidize and really have an engagement that goes beyond what a 30-second spot would be,” said Brent Montgomery, founder and CEO of Wheelhouse.

However, technology does not necessarily have to reinvent or create new business models, said Englebardt. “It’s just (about) how technology can enable what we know works to be applied,” he added.

The emergence of these technologies has also transformed news media, where non-traditional platforms such as user-generated content on Instagram and X have become news sources.

The fundamental change, Pittman said, is consumer convenience. “What people want today is have the information find me. I don’t want to go find the information,” he added.

While that can be both good and bad, media companies have to think about “chasing the consumer, as opposed to expecting them to come to you,” Pittman said.

It is becoming harder to distinguish between real and fake content, leading to a point where audiences will have to presume that everything they watch and hear is fake, said Englebardt.

That, however, is the advantage of news brands, because they are well-trusted and audiences can rely on them to vet the information and present genuine news, said Pittman.

In order to maintain that trust, news brands “will have to forego the clickbait business model and opportunity to monetize fake news,” said Englebardt. 

Pittman said: “Clickbait is directly related to lack of trust. The more clickbait, the less trusted.” As such, businesses have to choose whether they want to get more clicks and be less trusted, or have fewer clicks and be more trusted, he concluded.

 


Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website

Updated 23 February 2024
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Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website

  • Company is ‘no longer cost-effective and will transition to studio model’: CEO 
  • Unclear how decision will impact group’s presence in Riyadh

LONDON: Vice Media is set to lay off hundreds of staff and discontinue publication on its website.

An internal memo leaked to the media and later confirmed by Vice CEO Bruce Dixon said that the layoffs would begin early next week.

Dixon announced on Friday that the company is transitioning to a “studio model,” in a decision that was “not made lightly.” Affected employees will be “notified about next steps early next week.”

The decision is a result of Vice Media’s digital content distribution no longer being cost-effective, Dixon said.

The outlet will “look to partner with established media companies to distribute our digital content, including news, on their global platforms, as we fully transition to a studio model,” he added.

Dixon said that Refinery29, a Vice-owned women’s lifestyle-focused site, will continue to operate independently.

“Our financial partners are supportive and have agreed to invest in this operating model going forward. We will emerge stronger and more resilient as we embark on this new phase of our journey,” he added.

Reports of the layoffs come less than a year after Vice Media, whose assets include Vice News, Motherboard, Refinery29, i-D and Vice TV, was rescued from bankruptcy by a consortium of buyers from Fortress Investment Group.

Dixon said that the group is in “advance discussions” to sell its business and expects to “announce more on that in the coming weeks.”

Valued at $5.7 billion in 2017, Vice, once a prominent media company geared toward a younger audience, operated digital, television and film outlets.

In January last year, the media group announced the opening of a new regional office in Riyadh in an effort to expand its presence in the Middle East.

It remains unclear how the layoffs will impact the group’s presence in the Middle East. Experts say that the company employs about 900 people across all divisions.


Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics

Updated 26 min 25 sec ago
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Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics

  • European Broadcasting Union assessing whether ‘October Rain’ breaches guidelines on political neutrality
  • There have been protests over Israel’s participation in various European countries

LONDON: Israel has threatened to pull out of the Eurovision Song Contest after organizers said they were assessing the lyrics of its entry for political messages.

The song, “October Rain,” is set to be performed by singer Eden Golan at the event in Sweden in May.

It features references to the victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, including the lyrics “they were all good children, each one of them,” according to Israel Hayom newspaper.

The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event, said in a statement: “The EBU is currently in the process of scrutinizing the lyrics, a process which is confidential between the EBU and the broadcaster until a final decision has been taken.

“If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, broadcasters are then given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics.”

In response, Israel’s national broadcaster KAN, which oversaw the process of selecting the entry and will show the contest in Israel, said: “It should be noted that as far as the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation is concerned there is no intention to replace the song.

“This means that if it is not approved by the European Broadcasting Union, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition, which will take place in Sweden next May.”

KAN confirmed that the lyrics published by Israel Hayom are correct, calling the song a “moving and powerful ballad.”

It also published other lyrics, including the lines “Who told you boys don’t cry / Hours and hours / And flowers / Life is not a game for the cowards,” which Israel Hayom said is a reference to Israeli soldiers. 

KAN said Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar had written to the EBU to insist the song’s lyrics be approved, adding that “Israel is in one of its most complex periods, and that this fact cannot be ignored when choosing a song to represent it.”

On X, Zohar said: “The song of Israel, which will be performed by Eden Golan, is a moving song, which expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political."

He said any decision to disqualify “October Rain” would be “scandalous.”

“We all hope that Eurovision will remain a musical and cultural event and not a political arena — where the participating countries can bring their uniqueness and nationalism to the stage through music.

“I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art.”

Several protests about Israel’s participation, including in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, have been raised, while Iceland’s Association of Composers and Lyricists said the war in Gaza made Israel’s entry “incompatible” with the spirit of the contest.

The annual Eurovision contest has been won four times by Israel, where it is popular and often viewed as a barometer of the country’s standing internationally.

In the past, the EBU has forced the altering of lyrics over politics. In 2009, Georgia withdrew from the contest over its song’s overt references to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia was itself excluded from the contest in 2022 following its invasion of Ukraine, which went on to win Eurovision that year.

Noel Curran, director general of the EBU, said: “Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a non-political media organization, not ours to make.”

He added: “The EBU is aligned with other international organizations, including sports unions and federations and other international bodies, that have similarly maintained their inclusive stance towards Israeli participants in major competitions at this time.”

(With Reuters)

 


Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy

Updated 22 February 2024
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Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy

  • New committee for press freedoms established
  • 100-day plan endorsed, several proposals to start immediately

RIYADH: The Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board approved on Wednesday an executive strategy which will see several new committees established and a number of proposals fast tracked over the next 100 days.

The move came during the board’s second meeting, led by Adhwan Al-Ahmari, the association’s chairman, which took place on the sidelines of the Saudi Media Forum, held at the Riyadh Hilton Hotel.

Newly established dedicated committees will oversee the implementation of the association’s approved plan. These include an Executive Committee, responsible for setting interim targets and addressing urgent issues, and the Review and Performance Committee, tasked with monitoring performance, assessing committee effectiveness, and ensuring target fulfillment.

The Press Freedoms Committee will establish frameworks, implement plans, and collaborate with international media organizations to safeguard press freedoms.

In order to provide the association with a more robust foundation for its operations, the board has also decided to form a Committee for Developing Financial Resources, which will explore methods to generate income and ensure sustainability.

The Members and Relations Committee will manage the members’ affairs, while the Training Committee is tasked with crafting short-term and long-term training programs, as well as fostering partnerships with local and international universities and training centers.

The Events Committee will create executive plans for the association’s events and will develop a standardized criteria for internal and external activities, while the Content Committee is responsible for establishing a comprehensive editorial policy for all postings, as well as overseeing and improving the association’s website.

The board of directors endorsed a 100-day plan for the implementation of all proposals. The plan will be revised during the board’s next meeting.

The meeting of the board also discussed forming a club for journalists, which will be headquartered in Riyadh and operated by the association.

The board examined legal protection for media workers who are members of the association, in line with its regulations.

The board members emphasized the significance of expanding membership to include media students and trainees, providing them with a special membership to learn from professional journalists.

The meeting also discussed securing funding sources and establishing governance for the association’s fund for supporting journalists.


Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC

Updated 22 February 2024
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Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC

  • Hasan will be regular commentator with first column Wednesday urging US president to end Gaza ‘genocide’
  • MSNBC cancelled ‘The Mehdi Hasan Show’ in January amid widespread criticisms

LONDON: Former MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan is moving to The Guardian US following his sudden exit from the network last month.

The British-American writer and broadcaster, known for his award-winning work, will be a regular columnist for the American online presence of the British newspaper.

Its US editor, Betsy Reed, said Hasan’s addition would enhance the publication’s political commentary, advocacy for human rights and free speech, and accountability for those in power.

Hasan’s debut column, published on Wednesday, urged American President Joe Biden to pressure the Israeli government to end what he described as the “genocide” of Palestinians in Gaza.

Hasan said: “I have been poring over columns in The Guardian since I was a teenager. Now I get to write some of my own, in what is perhaps one of the busiest and biggest news years of my lifetime. It’s a huge honor and a privilege.”

The move came after Hasan’s MSNBC “The Mehdi Hasan Show” was abruptly cancelled by the network. While his programs did not always draw large audiences on MSNBC, his passionate monologues and incisive interviews earned him a significant online following, often leading to viral clips.

The timing of the show’s cancellation raised eyebrows, coinciding with Hasan’s criticism of Israel’s actions during its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Media analysts and fellow journalists have raised concerns that ending Hasan’s show had left American audiences without a crucial voice in the corporate news landscape during times of ongoing conflict.

The Guardian US has been expanding its team, adding prominent columnists and an investigative unit, reflecting the growing interest in British media among American audiences.