In an interview with BroadcastPro ME, Lee Hobbs, Vice President, Brand and Content, CEEMEA, Discovery Communications, reveals the network’s content strategy for the region
What is your 2017 content strategy for the Middle East and Africa?
In 2017, our strategy across CEEMEA (Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa) is to strengthen our global franchises and introduce new local formats and global programming events, while continuing to super-serve our passionate fans with even more content from their favourite returning series.
Globally, we have an ambitious line-up of content planned for the year, including the new Discovery Channel scripted anthology series Manhunt: Unabomber, which tracks how FBI agent Jim ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald brought down Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber; and the three-hour global event Diana: Tragedy or Treason? for TLC, which will detail the theories behind Diana’s untimely passing as we approach the 20th anniversary of her death.
These noisy programmes will sit alongside our locally acquired series, which for the Middle East includes two new series from the Supernanny herself, Jo Frost, on DLife, Family Matters with Jo Frost and Family SOS with Jo Frost; even more smart fun on DKids with all-new episodes of the popular animated series Earth to Luna; plus yet another strong line-up of new local commissions for Fatafeat from the channel’s roster of new and existing celebrity chefs.
For us, it is about finding the right stories that work for the right audience, and we look forward to presenting this comprehensive mix of must-watch entertainment, scripted, kids and lifestyle content to new and existing viewers across the region this year.
Do you plan to do original programming targeting the Middle East? What kind of programmes are you planning?
We produce over 150 hours of original local content each year for our flagship Arabic food network, Fatafeat. This Ramadan, Fatafeat fans saw the results of our investment with a fantastic line-up of new and returning local programming, including a new season of Matbakhik Mreytik hosted by Chef Leyla Fathallah, as well as a brand-new series with new chef Wafik Belaid, who presented the best in North African cuisine in Nakahat Al Maghreb Al Arabi. We also welcomed Chef Manal Al-Alem to the Fatafeat family, whose show Manal Al-Alem featured as one of our Ramadan highlights.
In general, Discovery has a long history of filming content in the Middle East and taking it to audiences around the world, and this year TLC will broadcast a special episode of the global hit show Cake Boss featuring content filmed in Saudi Arabia, as Buddy and his team sample the traditional food and patisseries of the region.
We are always searching for interesting local stories that will work for our global audience, and look forward to announcing more in the coming weeks.
Fatafeat has been a big success in the region. How do you plan to build on that success?
Fatafeat is the leading and most loved Arabic food network in the MENA region, with an army of dedicated fans across the region, thanks to the talented team we have on the ground in Dubai managing the channel. They have taken Fatafeat from strength to strength since Discovery acquired the network in 2012. Over the last four years, we have invested heavily in the brand, acquiring more shows, bringing in new on-screen talent and expanding its off-air presence.
Fatafeat now boasts a loyal fan base thanks to its multiplatform experience, which offers audiences extra value off-screen through a mix of exclusive content and immersive brand experiences, whether that be through its popular website (over 1.2 million unique users per month) and social media platforms (reaching over five million fans across the region); its VOD offering Fatafeat Play (over 500,000 video views); or its successful on-the-ground activations.
In 2017, our goal is to get closer to the consumer through bigger and better regional on-ground activations, enhanced digital experiences and more content, including the introduction of new Arabic chefs to our talented line-up. So far this year, we have already conducted two successful consumer activations for the channel, bringing the popular Fatafeat Kitchen live exhibit to audiences in Dubai. This Ramadan saw the launch of a new mobile app for Fatafeat fans on the go, featuring user-generated content and additional recipes, and we will be producing even more hours of short-form content for Fatafeat.com and Fatafeat Play VOD service.
On top of this, we were also hugely excited to add chefs Wafik Belaid and Manal Al-Alem to the channel this Ramadan. Chef Manal – or the Queen of the Kitchen, as she is also known – comes with a wealth of experience and credibility in the food industry, and our viewers will be entertained and inspired by her culinary creations this Ramadan and beyond, only on Fatafeat.
Which CEEMEA territories are your main focus areas, and why? How do you plan to grow your reach in those areas?
CEEMEA is one of the most diverse, dynamic and exciting regions globally. With varying degrees of maturity in each country in terms of pay-TV penetration, advertising trends, internet connectivity and DTT migration, the opportunities for growth are numerous. While in more mature markets such as the Netherlands and Germany, we are leveraging the trend towards multiscreen viewing with the expansion of our Eurosport Player OTT sports app and other investments in the digital space, in other markets such as Africa, where pay TV and TV households in general are poised for growth, we are forging new partnerships with local operators, launching new linear channels for the continent’s emerging population of content consumers.
In the MENA region, we successfully managed to expand our presence through strengthening our long-standing partnership with OSN. In this region, our strategy is to continue to work closely with our existing partners to offer enhanced viewing experiences to their subscriber base, while also looking into new partnerships and strategic investments that will allow us to reach new audiences in a more direct and personalised way.
Apart from the linear channels, which OTT platforms are you engaging with? Can you share details of your OTT strategy for the region?
Discovery was founded on disruption, and over the last few years we have evolved our traditional linear business, leveraging our premium content to drive scale in this multi-platform environment through the launch of various direct-to-consumer digital platforms.
In CEEMEA, Eurosport Player is our leading subscription-based sports OTT app, giving fans an all-access, on-demand digital pass to their favourite sporting events anytime on any device in 52 countries. Following significant investment in the platform, including our new deal with BAMTech plus even more premium sports rights, we have reached more people than ever before – most recently generating 41% extra subscribers during the Australian Open.
Another significant development in our digital strategy is our new partnership with Germany’s number one commercial broadcaster, ProSiebenSat.1, to create a next-generation OTT platform. This will see the creation of a Hulu-like partnership in Europe, with true local relevancy and content. The venture is expected to launch later this year with an AVOD and a low-SVOD offering, featuring our local German FTA channels DMAX and TLC, plus ProSieben’s seven broadcast channels. We are also welcoming discussions with other media companies to include their content and join the joint venture.
These platforms sit alongside our other global digital offerings, including our TVE streaming service Discovery Go in the US, which has seen 20 million streams and 225% growth since disaggregation in August 2016; our Discovery Kids app in Latin America; and our partnership with Amazon, which includes three dedicated channels featuring on-demand crime, paranormal and wedding-themed content.