‘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.


Lebanese newspaper introduces ‘AI President’ in effort to break political deadlock

Updated 15 April 2024
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Lebanese newspaper introduces ‘AI President’ in effort to break political deadlock

  • Artificial intelligence tool’s ‘deep understanding’ of country equips it to address issues effectively, AnNahar newspaper says
  • Lebanon has been without a president for more than two years

LONDON: A Lebanese newspaper has launched what it claims is the world’s first artificial intelligence tool designed to assume presidential duties for a nation, in an attempt to break the long-standing deadlock over who should assume the country’s presidency.

Arabic-language daily AnNahar said the program, which it has called “AI President,” has been trained on an archive of 90 years of “impartial journalism” from its pages. The program analyzes historical data and current events to provide answers to political, legal, and governmental questions.

With its “deep understanding” of Lebanon’s history, “AI President” aims to provide an “unbiased perspective” on the country’s current challenges.

The launch was announced in a live broadcast by Nayla Tueni, AnNahar’s editor-in-chief, who conducted an interview with the software regarding Lebanon’s current issues and potential solutions to them.

Lebanon is facing a number of long-running socio-economic crises, with over 80 percent of the population now reported to be living in poverty.

The country has been without a president for more than two years, despite 13 unsuccessful attempts by the Lebanese parliament to elect one.

Tueni hopes “AI President” will help break the political stalemate and restore confidence in the system.

“We refuse to sit back and allow things to go on as they have. To not have a president for this long is unacceptable and has impacted the country negatively,” Tueni said. “If the parliament will not do its job to elect a president, then the people will bring Lebanon a president.” 

“AI President” will be accessible through the website OurPresident.ai to answer questions on Lebanese politics.


Republican hardliners blame Biden administration after Huawei unveils laptop with new Intel AI chip

Updated 13 April 2024
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Republican hardliners blame Biden administration after Huawei unveils laptop with new Intel AI chip

  • A special license issued by the Trump administration has allowed Intel to ship central processors to Huawei for use in laptops since 2020
  • In August, Huawei unveiled a new phone powered by a sophisticated chip manufactured by sanctioned Chinese chipmaker SMIC

WASHINGTON: Republican US lawmakers on Friday criticized the Biden administration after sanctioned Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei unveiled a laptop this week powered by an Intel AI chip.

The United States placed Huawei on a trade restriction list in 2019 for violating Iran sanctions, part of a broader effort to hobble Beijing’s technological advances. Placement on the list means the company’s suppliers have to seek a special, difficult-to-obtain license before shipping to it.
One such license, issued by the Trump administration, has allowed Intel to ship central processors to Huawei for use in laptops since 2020. China hard-liners had urged the Biden administration to revoke that license, but many grudgingly accepted that it would expire later this year and not be renewed.
Huawei’s unveiling Thursday of its first AI-enabled laptop, the MateBook X Pro powered by Intel’s new Core Ultra 9 processor, shocked and angered them, because it suggested to them that the Commerce Department had approved shipments of the new chip to Huawei.
“One of the greatest mysteries in Washington, DC is why the Department of Commerce continues to allow US technology to be shipped to Huawei” Republican Congressman Michael Gallagher, who chairs the House of Representatives select committee on China, said in a statement to Reuters.
A source familiar with the matter said the chips were shipped under a preexisting license. They are not covered by recent broad-cased restrictions on AI chip shipments to China, the source and another person said.
The Commerce Department and Intel declined to comment. Huawei did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The reaction is a sign of growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to thwart Huawei’s rise, nearly five years after it was added to a trade restriction list.
In August, it shocked the world with a new phone powered by a sophisticated chip manufactured by sanctioned Chinese chipmaker SMIC, becoming a symbol of China’s technological resurgence despite Washington’s ongoing efforts to cripple its capacity to produce advanced semiconductors.
At a Senate subcommittee hearing this week, Kevin Kurland, an export enforcement official, said Washington’s restrictions on Huawei have had a “significant impact” on it access to US technology. He also stressed that the goal was not necessarily to stop Huawei from growing but to keep it from misusing US technology for “malign activities.”
But the remarks did little to stem frustration among Republican China hawks following the news about Huawei’s new laptop.
“These approvals must stop,” Republican congressman Michael McCaul said in a statement to Reuters. “Two years ago, I was told licenses to Huawei would stop. Today, it doesn’t seem as though the policy has changed.”


Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp

Updated 13 April 2024
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Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp

  • The 3 reporters were taken to Shohada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah
  • Journalist Sami Shehada lost his leg in the attack

GAZA: Three Palestinian journalists were injured in an Israeli airstrike on the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza on Friday.

Sami Shehada and Sami Barhoum were covering the events for the TRT Arabic TV channel, while Ahmad Harb was on duty for Al Arabiya News Channel at the time of the incident.

All three journalists were first taken to Al-Awda Hospital, a small facility in the north of the enclave, but later transferred to Shohada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

Shehada lost a leg in the attack, which reportedly directly targeted the media team.

“(We) were in a (relatively) safe spot, wearing our press armor and helmets,” Shehada told Arab News. “Even the car I arrived in was labeled ‘TV,’ and I’m a civilian and a journalist — they targeted us.”

Since Oct. 7, at least 122 journalists have been killed by Israeli strikes, according to UN figures, and many more have been injured.

UN experts said in February that they were “alarmed at the extraordinarily high numbers of journalists and media workers who have been killed, attacked, injured and detained in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in Gaza, in recent months, blatantly disregarding international law. We condemn all killings, threats and attacks on journalists and call on all parties to the conflict to protect them.”


Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

Updated 12 April 2024
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Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

  • ‘Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,’ says NGO official

LONDON: Media watchdogs have called for an independent investigation into an Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza that injured eight journalists.

The strike on March 31 also killed four people and injured nine others.

“Israel’s March 31 attack on a hospital compound where journalists were sheltering and working must be independently investigated,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York City.

With media offices facing widespread destruction in Gaza, journalists in the enclave have increasingly sought refuge in hospitals.

However, attacks on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and the March 18 assault on Al-Shifa Hospital, where journalists were arrested and faced violence, have rendered even hospitals unsafe for press personnel.

“Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,” added de la Serna.

Reports show that on March 31, an Israeli drone strike hit a tent encampment outside Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza, near a tent provided by the Turkish Anadolu news agency, where journalists had sought refuge.

The attack targeted a command center belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, resulting in the deaths of four militants and injuries to 17 other people, including eight journalists, according to multiple media outlets and the Palestinian press freedom group MADA.

Items including cameras, laptops and mobile phones belonging to journalists were also destroyed in the strike.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in central Gaza has warned of deteriorating conditions for journalists in the enclave, leading many to seek refuge and access to electricity in hospitals in order to file stories.

But recent attacks have eroded confidence in the safety of hospitals across Gaza.

During the Israeli operation in Al-Shifa Hospital on March 18, Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Ismail Al-Ghoul was detained for almost 12 hours alongside several other journalists.

Witnesses reported that soldiers assaulted the group of journalists, destroyed their tent, and damaged equipment and press vehicles.

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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

Updated 12 April 2024
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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

  • Maison de le Press, an umbrella organization of journalists in Mali, said it rejects the order and called on media to continue with their work
  • Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, has failed in his promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024

BAMAKO, Mali: In a deepening crackdown, Mali’s ruling junta on Thursday banned the media from reporting on activities of political parties and associations, a day after suspending all political activities in the country until further notice.

The order, issued by Mali’s high authority for communication, was distributed on social media. The notice said it applied to all forms of the media, including television, radio, online and print newspapers.
Mali has experienced two coups since 2020, leading a wave of political instability that has swept across West and Central Africa in recent years. Along with its political troubles, the country is also in the grip of a worsening insurgency by militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
The scope of the ban — or how it would be applied in practice — was not immediately clear. It was also not known if journalists would still be allowed to report on issues such as the economy, which are closely tied to politics and who would monitor their work.
The umbrella organization that represents journalists in Mali responded with an unusually stern rebuttal.
The group, known as Maison de le Press, or Press House, said it rejects the order and called on journalists to continue to report on politics in Mali. It also urged them to “stand tall, remain unified and to mobilize to defend the right of citizens to have access to information.”
Mali’s national commission for human rights also expressed regret and profound concern over the decision in a statement published late Thursday. It warned the junta the decision could prove harmful.
“Instead of calming the social climate, these restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms could potentially stir up trouble and tension, which the country does not need,” it said.
The clampdown on the media followed a similar action on Wednesday, when the junta ordered the suspension of all activities by political parties until further notice, citing a a need to preserve public order. The news was broadcast on state television as the population was celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which observant Muslims fast from dawn till dusk.
Analysts said the move was likely a backlash against political figures, civil society and students who have expressed frustration with the junta’s failure to return the country to democratic rule as promised.
“Recent weeks saw mounting pressure by political parties and figures,” Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, told The Associated Press. “For the first time, the public and politicians have publicly criticized junta leaders and accused them of a lack of seriousness.”
Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024. But in September, the junta canceled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.
The junta has vowed to end the insurgency that emerged in 2012 after deposing the elected government. It cut military ties with France amid growing frustration with the lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian contractors, mercenaries from the Wagner group, for security support instead. But analysts say the violence has only grown worse.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the ban on political activities. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are critical to an open society,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.