Linear TV will survive but it will have to adapt, says media boss
Fox on the box: US giant’s streaming platform goes live in the UAE
Global media giant Fox Networks Group, the company behind TV channels including FX, NatGeo, Fox Lifestyle and Baby TV, has launched its Fox Plus streaming platform in the region via MBC’s Shahid Plus service. Thousands of hours of Fox content is now available to existing and new Shahid Plus subscribers, including hit shows such as The Walking Dead, Atlanta, Project Runway and Jamie Cooks Italy.
Fox already operates its Fox Plus streaming platform as a stand-alone service across much of Asia. When asked why they had opted to team up with MBC in this region, particularly in an era in which stand-alone platforms like Netflix and Amazon dominate the TV landscape, and media behemoths such as Disney are in the process of launching their own stand-alone streaming services, regional vice president Sanjay Raina says: “Here is a very different market, and there are not that many linguistic groups, so we feel the best option here is for us to curate the content and let someone who’s an expert on the platform in the region deal with that side.” MBC, he says, is a giant in the region.
“They have experience with talking to the consumer, with payment mechanisms, promotion mechanisms. They’re best at knowing the audience, best at creating and delivering Arabic content. So if we integrate our Fox Plus service with theirs, then it becomes a very meaty beast – the customer gets the very best Arabic content through them and best Hollywood and factual content through us.
“It’s an alliance that brings two big brands and philosophies together for the benefit of the customer.”
Currently, the service offers content on demand, although Mr Raina notes that Fox can add live streaming of its linear channels to the service at any time. The fact it has chosen not to do so at launch, however, is interesting – could this be a sign that Fox is gearing up for the much-predicted death of linear TV? Not at all, according to Mr Raina, who insists that linear channels still have a vital part to play in the market: “On the linear format people know they can get sports, movies, kids’ content, factual content, whatever they want. The streaming format tends to become very singular in its approach,” he says. “Streaming tends to be largely entertainment focused, so viewers’ news needs, their factual needs, their lifestyle needs, are not met. So you end up toggling back to linear.”
For Mr Raina, the rise of streaming services is the beginning of a new chapter: “The whole ‘death of TV’ epitaph is wrong,” he says. “Linear services will remain because they’re a one-stop shop for all your content needs. Streaming services will come along and meet your needs for specific content ... but linear services will need to develop a strong streaming side to their service because that’s what the consumer is looking for.”
Mr Raina turns to the American TV market – traditionally a few years before the Middle East – as an example. While the American media has been full of reports of customers “cutting the cable”, Mr Raina says that this has not really harmed broadcasters: “Look at DirecTV in the US. They may have lost some cable subscribers, but they’ve made that up on their streaming service [DirecTV Now]. There’s a new way of watching content and the question is ‘are we ready for it?’ It’s not about TV dying, it’s about TV reinventing itself, understanding the customer and giving them what they want. No one is going to stop watching content, it’s just the delivery system that’s changing.”
Mr Raina seems convinced that customers will welcome the changing regional landscape: “We’ve got the very best shows and movies, we’ve got the best factual content from Nat Geo, we’ve got Baby TV. And all the content is easily discoverable. We want it to be very negotiable for the customer, so you open up and you have five windows that will guide you through all the amazing shows. It’s a really well curated service and we think consumers will be intrigued."
Fox Plus is available as part of Shahid Plus. Monthly subscription is US$4.75 (Dh17). The site is offering a free seven-day trial