The telecommunications company du is launching its first major venture outside of the country with its pan-Arab digital platform Anayou. The launch comes as other regional operators opt to expand internationally through expensive acquisitions such as Etisalat's US$10.5 billion (Dh38.56bn) bid for 46 per cent of the Kuwaiti operator Zain.
The initiative by du will be a test of whether telecoms operators can find success in an industry dominated by Facebook and YouTube. "This is a key milestone in the life of du," said Osman Sultan, the company's chief executive. Anayou - an amalgamation of "ana", Arabic for "me", and "you" - will offer digital content tailored for the Arab world, including music, videos, gaming and news as well as a social network similar to Facebook.
It will also provide a platform for anyone, including small businesses, media companies and even rival operators, to publish content on the website through a revenue-sharing agreement. "We believe that there is an opportunity to create an internet platform with the aim of becoming a major digital destination … We need the people in the Arab world to exist in the digital universe," Mr Sultan said. "At the difference of some other operators who are exploring the geographic expansion route, we have said that it doesn't make sense for us to go at that same geographic expansion right now. Maybe for us it's more vital whether it can be faster for us to move in a different track in the digital space."
The website underwent a soft launch auspiciously timed for 10.10am on October 10 2010, a nod to online users who recognise the importance of 1s and 0s in binary, the basic programming language on which modern computing was founded. An official launch is expected next week during the annual Gitex technology expo in Dubai. There will also be a heavy emphasis on mobile usage. Users will be able to access Anayou through iPhone and BlackBerry applications as well as through a wireless application protocol portal geared for mobile phones that have basic web functionality, said Raghu Venkataraman, the chief strategy and investments officer for du.
The operator's strategy is the most fully fledged online strategy among Middle Eastern telecoms companies. Telecoms operators are beginning to diversify their offerings, including digital content initiatives, as they begin to challenge successful websites such as Yahoo and Facebook that have secured the lion's share of online advertising. Anayou will be the main portal for du's digital ventures including Eurosport Arabia and the online gaming world Empire of Sports, with other content partnerships to be announced shortly, Mr Sultan said.
"On the internet, we believe that there is an opportunity for a space like this," Mr Sultan said. "We want the places that we have created to be appealing to people in this part of the world because we believe that you spend time at a digital space as it represents you." Mr Sultan declined to specify how much the operator has invested in its digital ventures but said that any funding would be provided in "phases" as the project grew. It will generate revenue primarily through online advertising and other revenue-sharing agreements.
Mr Venkataraman said Anayou was expected to break even after its third year. However, Mr Sultan cautioned that Anayou would not be all things to all people from day one. "People in the digital space know how long it takes for certain things to happen. Look at Facebook when it started and look at Facebook today," Mr Sultan said. firstname.lastname@example.org