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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

New TV streaming service Viu TV is tailor made for Gulf audiences

Viu TV offers content for the local and expat population

Sherif Dahan, a director at Vuclip. Courtesy Vuclip
Sherif Dahan, a director at Vuclip. Courtesy Vuclip

It can feel like a new video streaming service launches every week these days. In an increasingly crowded market, you do have to wonder when peak streaming will be reached, if it hasn’t already.

With majors such as Netflix and Amazon cornering the global market and offering increasing amounts of localised content, it cannot be easy for less well-known competitors to break into the segment successfully, but Sherif Dahan, regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Vuclip, thinks the company’s Viu TV service has what it takes to make its mark.

Rather than try and take on the big boys in the world’s most developed markets, Viu focuses on emerging markets, now including the Middle East, and approaches audiences with highly localised content.

“Our content is very relevant to the region,” he says . “Our library is customised for the Gulf and all of the people living there. So, of course, there is a full line-up of Arabic movies and TV shows, but the same applies to Indians and Filipinos, and there is western entertainment too. So, a high degree of relevance for the whole population, local and expat. I do not think anybody else really does that to this degree.”

Viu TV also looks closely at the demographics of individual markets within the region. Egypt, for example, has high levels of illiteracy, so where translation is required within the Arabic content, it focuses on dubbing rather than subtitles where possible, making the content accessible to the widest possible audience.

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A further draw for audiences comes from the fact that the service is available 100 per cent free, supported by ads, although a Dh16.99 monthly subscription is also available, offering ad-free viewing and access to exclusive premium content.

Viu TV launched in the Middle East in February, offering services to the GCC plus Jordan and Egypt, and taking the service live in 22 countries across Asia.

Alongside Egyptian, Syrian, Khaleeji and Tunisian TV dramas, Arabic viewers can also access classic movies and recent blockbusters, as well as curated music videos for more than 6,000 songs from artists such as Nicole Saba, Amr Diab, Hassan El Shafei, Nancy Ajram, Ramy Sabry and Maya Diab.

Bollywood content can also be streamed, with films, TV shows and music videos featuring stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone, while western content includes less well-known films and TV shows from the US, Europe and Australia.

The service claims to have 10 million active monthly subscribers, an increase of four million in the past five months. Dahan does not have a breakdown of regional subscribers, in common with Viu’s better-known competitors, but it seems a reasonable assumption that the rapid increase is at least partly due to the Middle East launch in February.

Dahan admits the current streaming market is very competitive, but he adds this has an unexpected side benefit for services such as Viu TV.

“Every day you wake up and find there is another service, but that is good because people are getting more accustomed to the idea that if you want good content you have to go somewhere and pay for it,” says Dahan.

The Egyptian film Le A'ala Se'aar (To The  Highest Price) is available on the service. Courtesy Adel Group
The Egyptian film Le A'ala Se'aar (To The Highest Price) is available on the service. Courtesy Adel Group

“That is a great idea to implant in a region that has historically been very high for piracy, so it is good that people are getting used to paying a monthly subscription if they want to watch good content.”

Finally, in common with its bigger competitors, Viu has its own selection of Viu Originals in its more established markets.

Dahan says this will soon also become available in the Middle East, with locally-made productions set to add content. This is good news for the local industry as well as the viewers.

“I cannot put a date on when we will start local production, but it will be coming soon,” he says. “We try to be as relevant to the markets we operate in as possible, whether that is to key local markets or the pan-Arab market.

“We have already had a number of Ramadan simulcasts in conjunction with various TV channels around the region, and they have also been added to our catch-up library, and the next stage of producing our own Arabic content in the region, for the region, will be coming very soon.”