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In what can only be described as a dismal year for many companies, a minority have shone. The challenging economic outlook and continued uncertainty are forcing CEOs to contemplate some difficult choices. Some are pulling in, making cuts, and focusing on riding out the storm. Others, however, are taking decisive action to make sure that when the crisis ends, they’ll emerge stronger than ever before.

Despite the immense challenges brought forward by COVID-19, OSN has maintained its spot at the forefront of innovation and entertainment in the region, and beyond. Since his appointment almost two years ago, OSN’s CEO has quickly brightened the company’s outlook with the launch of new and exciting platforms and services.  

In April, the company announced the perfectly-timed launch of Disney+, and today, Patrick Tillieux shares with Telecom Review the next important milestone in OSN’s journey.

It’s been around six months since we last spoke – what’s new with OSN since then?

It has been a very busy and successful six-month period for OSN following our brand re-launch and Disney+ partnership started last April. Based on this solid new ground, we have been able to focus our efforts on achieving our second milestone for this year: OSN Originals, which I am happy to announce today.

The launch of OSN Originals represents a grandstanding moment for our brand, designed to bring fresh meaningful entertainment for the people of this region. I am confident that OSN Originals will usher in an era of content resilience – content made for the region and by the region. With this launch, we are looking into the future and eyeing great success as I believe that the great brand that is OSN will be well served by our OSN Originals.

Why do you believe now is the time to be launching OSN's original content?

The appeal of OSN hinges on a rich variety of premium content. We are always on the lookout for quality content that differentiates us from the rest in broadcast and streaming.

Our data-backed insights and our curation skills pushed us to respond to what our viewers want nowadays. The evolving taste and aspirations of our audience motivated us to come up with our OSN Originals. You will see that our line-up has been developed to offer something genuinely different.

Did the pandemic expedite the launch of your original content?

The creation of our OSN Originals required development time and investment before the unfortunate circumstances of Covid-19.

However, the coronavirus created some difficulties in the actual production of our OSN Originals, but we were blessed, and our production partners didn’t face insurmountable hurdles. Our in-house teams are quite pleased with the outcome. I am now looking forward to the reaction of our subscribers.

What sort of content can we expect to see?

This is the most interesting part. How many variations of the same Arabic series can one watch? Our creative teams have taken a different approach. They are on a mission to bring unique content that will excite our subscribers.

The adaptation and local production of the international format Come Dine With Me is a good example of how to be different. The reworking of an older Egyptian format Adet Regala into a contemporary show is another example. The first scripted OSN Original will be an all-new series, No Man’s Land, which brings a Syrian war story like never told before on the big screen. The series showcases the thrilling story of a young French man searching for his estranged sister who joined forces with a unit of Kurdish all-female fighters.

We are at the start of a long journey that I am sure will delight our subscribers and audiences.

What makes OSN a credible provider of original content?

OSN’s scale across MENA puts us in a unique position in this market. With our legacy comes a deep understanding of the nuances of the region at a granular level, and this understanding is backed by data. As such, we have a fair view of what content will resonate across our footprint of 25 markets. That is our starting position.

We then select our production partners to complement and augment our data and insights with their skills and experience. Our commitment to sustainably invest in Arabic productions is a clear signal to the creative community that we mean business. Our goal with OSN Originals is to support a new generation of storytellers.

We want to embolden them to tell their stories, without being encumbered by prohibitive commercials or other burdens that may hinder authentic storytelling. We want to provide a platform for bold storylines and strong narratives that reflect the evolving aspirations of the region.

How has the pandemic affected OSN’s subscriber base in the last six months?

As it happens, we took three major steps that, by an unfortunate twist of fate, coincided with the full outbreak of the coronavirus. We refreshed our identity with a more dynamic and contemporary look; we launched our OSN streaming app and we upgraded our content offer with the exclusivity of the Disney+ content. In hindsight, I am still amazed by how our teams succeeded in getting it all done.

Undergoing this transformation during the global pandemic may have helped position our streaming app for growth, as the demand for quality content is higher than ever before. However, it was not mere circumstances alone that have helped with our subscriber figures but the quality and exclusivity of our content, the great value for money, and the fresh presentation of all of this content – these factors have all contributed to the surge we see. 

How have you increased your content within the last few months?

We are the undisputed market leader when you combine quality, scale, and variety of content assets along with exclusive partnerships with global studio majors such as Disney, HBO, NBC, Universal, MGM to name a few. In light of this, we are not looking for more Western content as it is already hard to consume everything we offer. Still, we strengthened our content proposition with our exclusive partnership with Disney.

The arrival of Disney+ originals was a strategic decision for both Disney and OSN, leveraging our unique footprint in direct-to-home, stretching from Rabat to Muscat, as well as our ambitious streaming app in the connected world. And then of course the launch of the OSN Originals that we have just talked about, which is a natural response to what our subscribers want.

What sort of genre or content has been seen the most increase in consumption on both OSN’s streaming service and its linear channels?

Our top viewed content of the past year includes Western series such as Chernobyl. Interestingly, we dubbed the series in Arabic which was a huge success. Of course, the Game of Thrones and all of Grey’s Anatomy appeared top on the viewing list.

Incidentally, the next season of Grey’s Anatomy will start in mid-November exclusively on all our screens, DTH and streaming. In addition to this, it is also interesting to note that our big selection of Turkish and Arabic series registers high viewership rates at any given time. So, I am excited to see how our OSN Originals will fare in the coming months.

It’s a crowded market for consumers given the number of choices, so what’s next for OSN? How will you be competing with other regional and global media players in the future?

Undoubtedly there is an increasing crowdedness of media propositions in the market. The question is how to remain relevant and affordable for the consumer. Each player will have to play out its distinctiveness.

The streaming world is a nascent market, so there will be lots of movement in the coming months. Subscribers will want to get a taste of the different propositions and eventually settle for a combination of two or maybe three apps.

I am fully confident that OSN's truly unique offering of the best and freshest movies and series in full exclusivity, the best Arabic content, amazing lifestyle shows, great documentaries, top entertainment brands, and now the OSN Originals all under one roof at this incredible low price of $10 per month, will emerge as the one to have.

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