x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Web TV sparks living room rivalries

The rise of Web television is expected to spark a battle for audiences in the Arab world's US$2.5 billion television industry.

The rise of Web television is expected to spark a battle for audiences in the Arab world's US$2.5 billion (Dh9.18bn) television industry.

Viewers are increasingly watching TV programmes over the internet, after the launch of more than 10 online streaming services in the Middle East.

"TV over the Web is on the increase," said Ali Ajouz, a media consultant based in the UAE. "It will capture a major percentage of viewing habits in the region, especially in countries like the UAE."

Samer Abdin, the co-founder of the Web-TV service Istikana, says this will lead to a battle for TV audiences where it matters most - in viewers' living rooms.

"The trend for the next few years is who owns the living room. That's the big battle," he says.

Competitors include established broadcasters, new online TV services and manufacturers of internet-enabled TVs, he added.

Some of the region's existing Web TV services are free to use, relying on advertising for revenue, while others charge for individual downloads or subscriptions.

Web TV start-ups in the Arab world include Istikana, Cinemoz and Shofha.com, which offer a variety of online movies and TV series.

Some traditional broadcasters have launched Web TV services of their own. MBC and OSN - two of the Arab world's biggest TV broadcasters - now have Web-based "catch-up" services.

The rise of the internet-enabled smart TV is also set to change how viewers watch shows.

Samsung has pushed its Smart TV range, which supports applications similar to those on smartphones. These include an Al Jazeera app, which allows users to stream the broadcaster's news channels from anywhere in the world. An Istikana application for Samsung TVs is also under testing.

"If you're a set-top box manufacturer, you should be very scared. That technology will be built into the TV," said Mr Abdin.

The Dubai-based broadcaster OSN in March launched its Web TV platform, dubbed OSN Play.

Emad Morcos, the vice president of business development and strategy at OSN, said usage of the Web TV service had been "phenomenal". About 20 per cent of the broadcaster's existing satellite subscribers have used it, he said.

"Our growth in terms of uptake has been probably two to three times quicker … than that of the European broadcasters who have done the same thing," said Mr Morcos.

OSN Play is available only on laptops and PCs, but Mr Morcos said the service was scheduled to be launched on both the Apple iPad and internet-enabled TV sets in July.

"We have an aggressive roll-out plan," he said. He added that other plans include the launch of OSN Play on smartphones, gaming consoles and internet-protocol TV.

Although viewership habits are changing, the trend of viewing TV via the Web is still in its early days, Mr Morcos said.

"It's going to take some time," he said. "The whole entire approach to how we consume television is changing."

bflanagan@thenational.ae