Ipsos recently released a report enumerating some of the factors contributing to the growth of OTT services in the MENA region. We bring you some key findings of the report covering KSA, the UAE and Egypt, representing 31 million internet users aged 15 and over across these three markets. The study focuses on paid platforms that customers subscribe to over and above their monthly satellite, cable TV or telecom service
The MENA region, in particular the GCC market, has some of the highest internet penetration figures in the world and a proliferation of high-end devices. In parallel, operators have invested heavily in fixed and mobile broadband services to be able to deliver high-quality experiences to customers.
The distribution of video content in the region has been dominated by satellite TV operators to date. While the appetite for video content is phenomenal, with Saudi Arabia famously having some of the highest per capita consumption figures for online video anywhere in the world, the region is also characterised by a large population bulge in the millennials segment. In KSA, 67% of the population is under the age of 30, in the UAE the equivalent is 50%, and in Egypt it is 60%. This market context provides, in principle, a perfect basis for OTT players to deliver new content offerings.
OTT players have recognised this market opportunity and 2016 has seen the launch of new OTT services in the MENA for premium video content. At the start of 2016, Netflix announced global expansion to include the MENA markets. The hyperbole around this launch raised the profile of OTT services, and other operators have followed suit with Google Play movies launching towards the end of the year and players such as OSN and MBC investing in their OTT offerings and the content being offered. Telecom operators have also launched their own initiatives with brands such as eLife ON in the UAE and Mosaic from Ooredoo in Qatar. Telecom players are now looking at this market seriously in order to drive new revenue streams, as revenues from voice and SMS stagnate or even decline.
In order to maximise return on investment, it is important for operators to have a solid market understanding from a consumer perspective on how these developments are viewed – the size of the potential market, preference for premium content, willingness to pay for premium, brand preferences, satisfaction with the experience to date and unmet needs.
The study uncovered that close to two thirds of consumers (62%) have paid for digital content, compared to just over one half who have paid for any physical format.
Consumers have various options to pay for content in its different forms. Pioneered by Apple and the iTunes stores, paying to own content where consumers can pay, download and install has been for many years a staple for content distributors leveraging retail channels supported by Apple, Google as well as telecom operators. The offering is typically a la carte and consumers select the content they want and pay a one-off fee to own. Rental options, in particular pay-per-view for sports events and movies, are a further option where consumers have exclusive access to sports events in real time. Finally, all-you-can-eat subscription models are available, typically with monthly recurring payment plans.
The MENA region has seen a growth in the subscription model corresponding to the launch of subscription video on demand services (SVOD). Sports and movies lead the content space with maximum subscriptions, followed by TV series. Looking at the results for KSA, the UAE and Egypt, it is seen that sports content comes at the top in terms of premium.
There are important demographic differences here by segment, with sports being predominantly driven by men and women favouring international TV series and documentaries. Importantly, Arabic movies are as important as Western movies and documentaries. In Egypt, Arabic movies are actually as important as sports.
Among those that have paid to subscribe for digital content, video drives subscriptions with movies (38%) and sports (34%) the most often cited content types, followed by TV series (25%). 24% of people who have subscribed to a content product have signed up for music, 20% for ebooks and a further 20% for games. 10% have taken out newspaper or magazine subscriptions.
YouTube still leads the pack
Despite the hyperbole around the launch of Netflix across the region at the beginning of 2016, when asked to think of brands of online or mobile video platforms for renting, downloading or streaming TV shows and movies, two thirds of consumers across the UAE, Egypt and KSA are unable to think of any brand. Those that are able to cite a brand are most likely to mention YouTube. This is a reality check for marketers in terms of the infancy of the category, and is also an opportunity for brands to build, grow and own this space. When asked on a prompted basis after YouTube, MBC’s Shahid is the number one SVOD platform consumers are aware of.
The smartphone is the most used device to stream online video content. That said, the TV screen is increasingly used to watch streamed content either through a smart TV application or via a connected device to the TV. This has important implications for traditional broadcasters, reflecting changing viewing habits.
Popular payment modes
Going beyond content, a high-quality experience is an important driver of premium. Early adopters are now experienced users of OTT services. Their feedback on the level of service they receive, pain points and unmet needs is invaluable to operators who want to retain customers and grow their share of the wallet.
Importantly, 25% of users of key OTT platforms are dissatisfied with the payment options available to them, and a further 20% are not happy with the customer service they receive. Conversely, around one in four are satisfied with the overall experience they receive and the selection of content they have access to. These are important considerations for operators, going beyond the focus, which has most likely been on the delivery of content. They need to invest more in customer support options and a wider range of payment options.
The three main payment options used by OTT customers today are a credit card to pay once; people also pay through a mobile operator, for example, SMS and local payment options such as Fawry in Egypt and Sadad in KSA; CashU is also popular. It is important for operators to consider these localised options in any offering.
Overwhelmingly, the quality of experience feature strongly for customers. A better HD experience has the most mentions, with 60% of respondents. A wider range of content was cited by 39% and better screen quality 33%.
The MENA region offers enormous potential for those delivering OTT services. Just over half of internet users in this survey, representing some 17 million adults across Egypt, KSA and the UAE are paying for online content in its different forms. A third, around 10 million users, say they are very likely to subscribe over the next 12 months to an online video service. Customers are prepared to pay for premium. While sports and the latest movie releases are key drivers, Arabic movies and Arabic content should not be ignored, especially in Egypt. In order to offer a truly premium service, operators need to think beyond just content, however. The availability of different payment options and attention to customer service are important, as is delivery of a better high-quality experience.