‘There is a trend amongst MENA pay TV operators to be more affordable’

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Kasia Kieli, President, and MD, Discovery Networks CEEMEA, on the company’s recent business expansion and its plans for the future in the region.

What do you think about the growth of pay TV in the GCC region?

Although pay TV penetration is still low in the MENA region, the number of subscribers is expected to grow over the next five years, with the GCC region driving this growth due to the high inclination to pay for TV services and a population who demand a more diverse, international and local content offering. As the MENA pay TV landscape becomes increasingly competitive, there is a trend amongst pay TV operators who are now focusing on strengthening their content offering – conducting exclusive deals with distributors such as Discovery – and updating their pricing structures to be more affordable in order to gain market share.

Can you tell us about Discovery’s global and local business expansion in recent years – especially the shift from linear to digital?

Discovery is founded on disruption. We started in 1985 with one US channel and now reach more than three billion cumulative viewers worldwide, with an average of ten channels across 220+ markets, in both the pay and FTA segment. We were the first in non-fiction, the first in HD and the first cable company to launch VR. Now, we are disrupting ourselves with our pivot to digital and mobile, following several strategic global investments in the past year, which will amplify our global storytelling in this omni-platform environment. This includes our $100 million investment in Group 9, the #1 news publisher on Facebook, drawing 3.5 billion global monthly video views, and our recent partnership with Snapchat, which will see us develop exclusive short-form content for Snapchat’s Discover platform.

On top of this, we are also strengthening our direct-to-consumer strategy with personalised on-the-go content. Our Discovery Go TVE service in the US has generated more than 20 million streams and attracted eight million unique visitors since disaggregation in August 2016, with 50 per cent of streams coming from 18- to 34-year-olds, while Eurosport Player remains Europe’s leading subscription-based sports app.

From a local standpoint, our expansion has been unparalleled. Since our acquisition of Takhayal Entertainment in 2012, we have opened a local office, doubled our footprint thanks to partnerships with OSN, beIN and Image Nation, and now boast a portfolio of 11 pay and two FTA (free-to-air) channels. Fatafeat, our flagship Arabic food network, is leading the way in the digital space reaching more than six million fans across online and social media and, this year, we will be supercharging the non-linear experience, launching a new mobile app and producing even more hours of short-form content for Fatafeat.com and Fatafeat Play VOD service, which will further extend the Fatafeat story off-screen.

Discovery works closely with beIN and OSN. What’s new on that front? Any other regional deals in the pipeline?

We have disrupted our traditional business over the past four years to remain competitive in this dynamic region, through longstanding partnerships with OSN and by creating a brand new bespoke- for-MENA portfolio with beIN. With a strong presence in the linear space, we are now actively looking at opportunities to further expand into the digital arena, with new partnerships and investments that will help us bring our content to more people on more screens than ever before.

Is Discovery Network planning to introduce local content for GCC audiences?

We produce more than 150 hours of original, local content for Fatafeat each year and, this Ramadan, viewers can look forward to a fantastic line-up of new and returning local programming, including a new season of Matbakhik Mreytik hosted by Chef Leyla Fathallah, as well as a brand new series with new chef Wafik Belaid, who will present the best in North African cuisine in Nakahat Al Maghreb Al Arabi. And we are thrilled to welcome Chef Manal Al-Alem to the Fatafeat family, whose show Manal Al-Alem (w/t) will also premiere as one of our Ramadan highlights.

Discovery also has a long history of filming content in the Middle East and taking it to audiences around the world and, this year, TLC will broadcast a special episode of the global hit show Cake Boss featuring content filmed in Saudi Arabia, as Buddy and his team sample the traditional food and patisseries of the region. We are always searching for interesting local stories that will work for our global audience and look forward to announcing more in the coming weeks.

What is Discovery’s strategy for growth in the region – in particular, after the Fatafeat channel acquisition in 2012?

With the world’s most youthful population, high mobile growth and penetration, plus a rapid progression in digital advertising predicted, the MENA region is poised for growth across all sectors. Our strategy is to leverage the premium quality of our content to drive scale in this rapidly developing region, across various ecosystems – from pay to FTA to digital. We will continue to work closely with our existing partners to offer enhanced viewing experiences to their subscriber base, while also looking into new partnerships and strategic investments that will allow us to reach new audiences in a more direct and personalised way.

What are your thoughts on the TV industry development globally and in CEEMEA, and what is Discovery’s strategy to stay ahead?

The old adage has always been that content is king, however in this modern context it might be more appropriate to say that the consumer is now king. Today, consumers are demanding video the way they want it – at a time and place that suits them. Media companies have taken notice, leading to a crowded and fragmented marketplace – from pay, to FTA to OTT to TVE. In this context, time spent watching TV content is actually multiplying and, in this omni-platform environment, it is more crucial than ever to create powerful video content that surpasses the screen it is consumed on. Our strategy is to continue to provide value for our fans with premium video content on every platform for every person, leveraging our global and local digital investments, to ensure we are engaging millennial audiences with loved content that inspires and entertains.

What lies at the core of Discovery’s marketing strategy in the GCC/Middle East? Is it different from the one practised elsewhere?

Discovery is committed to satisfying curiosity and engaging our super-fans, wherever they may be, both on- and off-screen. In the MENA region, our strategy is to work closely with our local partners, merging our global brands with their scale and reach to create memorable moments for our local fan base. In the past year, we have expanded our programme of consumer-focused experiential events, thanks to partnerships with OSN, beIN, Emaar Entertainment and the Dubai and Qatar Tourism Boards, launching successful activations, such as ‘Darnival’, ‘Fatafeat Kitchen’ and the new ‘Shark Week Exhibit’ at the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo.

These are tangible, noisy and impactful events that give our fans the opportunity to interact with our brands in a more meaningful way. Coupled with our traditional marketing activities, including media buys, social media campaigns and influencer engagement, this holistic strategy allows us to create consumer touchpoints across multiple platforms and, in turn, create loved brands that are must-have and must-watch in the region. Also, off the back of our investment in the FFICCA online cooking academy, as a next step, we want to investigate brand licensing for Fatafeat and are working on a series of concepts for restaurants and table-top and kitchen appliances, which will give fans the opportunity to take home and sample a piece of the Fatafeat lifestyle.

ith advertisers cutting back on ad spend, especially on traditional media in the Middle East region, are you feeling the heat from falling ad revenues?

We do not disclose details of our commercial performance; however, due to the diversity of our portfolio and the recent appointment of Media International Services (MIS) as our exclusive media partner for Fatafeat, we are well positioned to take advantage of the market’s changing advertising trends, specifically the growth in digital advertising and branded content creation.

Fatafeat is the #2 food website in the region, reaching more than 1.2 million unique users per month. Coupled with its substantial social media following, Fatafeat offers the perfect opportunity for brands looking for tailored advertising solutions targeting a specific audience. On top of this, as part of their appointment, MIS will manage the production of commercial digital content for Fatafeat, which in 2017 will see the creation of more than 1,500 short-form videos, offering greater product integration and brand partnership opportunities for potential advertisers.

With Discovery Channel and TLC – both now open for advertising and sold via PS Media – we have just moved playout from London to Dubai, which, we anticipate, will facilitate sponsorship sales opportunities for advertisers to co-present key programmes, stunts or themes with us on these flagship channels.


The article appeared in the Sep 2017 issue of GMR.