Nobody in the MENA broadcast business wouldn’t be fooled by Nadine Samra’s calm demeanour. Behind it is a fierce businesswoman who doesn’t like playing to the tunes of different drummers. Her broadcast journey and her contributions to the industry are evidence of a sharp business acumen and a passion to do meaningful work. Having worked her way up, Samra, who hails from Jordan, is a shining example of how skills, education and a hunger to succeed can really take you places.
As Vice President, Digital Business MENA and Africa for Zee Entertainment, Samra globally manages Weyyak, an OTT platform for Arabic-speaking audiences. In addition to the huge reach of its linear TV channels, she is central to the company’s focus on building the largest digital presence for ZEE.
Putting things in perspective, Samra explains: “We are in a continuous journey to enhance our viewers’ experience, whether on TV or digital. We have recently launched our South Asian digital OTT product ZEE5 in MENA, which has a huge library of content and supports over 11 regional Indian languages.”
Weyyak only launched in 2017, but has around three million unique users a month, with an average viewing time of one hour on most platforms and 13,000-plus hours of streaming content available.
Samra reveals Zee’s MENA plans: “The focus is on growing our digital platforms and footprint. We have set huge targets for our brand awareness, unique visitors, number of subscriptions and video views, in addition to a lot of focus on B2B distribution for Weyyak and ZEE5 in the region. Weyyak has established a great brand name in the market. It is known now as one of the main Arabic VOD platforms that has a great user experience and video streaming. We have been very active in developing our business to business relations and partnerships recently. We are also known for our exclusive Indian dubbed into Arabic content, and our very large Arabic library.”
Weyyak recently signed DMS as its exclusive media representation partner and extended its offering to Samsung-connected TVs and Ooredoo Oman customers through its IPTV box, and it will soon be available on the Ooredoo TV application.
“I had to work harder than everyone and gain more soft skills to compete in the workplace in an environment dominated by men”
Samra is among the few women in MENA broadcast, who are shaking things up. An interest in digital technologies and the challenge of creating a virtual product brought her to the industry. Even as a network engineer, configuring large routers and switches and deploying wireless access points, she always wanted to experiment with websites and digital products.
Samra turned her dream of working on digital product ideas into reality in 2007 by launching Gossip Dubai, a community website that aimed to bring Dubai residents together. From coding and system administration to design and content creation, she handled it all on her own. A passion for digital media and finding ways of using technology for better entertainment kept her going and drove her to keep exploring.
Ask her if her journey from project management to digital broadcast operations was easy, and Samra says: “Hard work, consistency and the willingness to learn are a few competencies a person should have to excel in their career. I think women have to work harder to advance their career because they are faced with more challenges, especially to move up the ladder. Just by the nature of being a woman, the opportunity to grow within an organisation is wrought with challenges.
“In the broadcast and digital media industry, you find fewer women in leadership positions, especially those related to technology. I had to work harder than everyone around me, be knowledgeable in more areas and gain more soft skills and competencies to compete in the workplace in an environment that is dominated by men.”
The first time she was managing multiple departments, Samra was only 28 years old and her reporting line managers were all men, all older than her. Nine years later, she leads a Dubai team of men and women, with 22 professionals covering business development, marketing, product, content and branding verticals. An extension of her team in India provides technical support for the platform.
“I think the industry is getting better at accepting that working women will need some flexibility to manage their work and family. But I don’t think we are doing a good job at this just yet. Until now, providing support of any sort to women was considered a privilege and sometimes has a negative impact on productivity. This needs to change. More and more women are trying to find their way for an equal opportunity. What they need is the right sponsor who can spot their talent and capability and support them to maximise their potential,” Samra believes.
She places a lot of emphasis on the power of networking. Her advice to young women wanting to make a career in broadcast is to scout opportunities, get internships, connect with people, attend media events – and to learn, learn and continue learning.
While the industry is witnessing changing gender roles, another area that merits attention is that of digital streaming services, which are disrupting the broadcast industry beyond recognition and shifting viewership patterns. Speaking about workflow, Samra says: “Weyyak works with many partners and develops a lot of pieces in-house. The larger pieces of the platform, the CMS and apps, are managed internally by our technical team. We also use a lot of standard tools in the market for analytics, monitoring, marketing tools, etc. We use AWS for hosting.”
Showing confidence in the future of digital, Samra opines: “I am all about digital experiences, I watch content on OTT platforms. I like to continue watching at my convenience, switch between devices seamlessly and get content recommendations. I think the digital industry will continue to grow despite the speculations of lower advertising budgets. As a product, we have a strong roadmap of features and exclusive content that will drive our users and viewership to higher limits.”
Offering an exclusive insight to BroadcastPro ME about their new programming initiatives this Ramadan, Samra says: “We have explored a new content genre for Weyyak, where we have released for the first time a Turkish drama series dubbed into Arabic titled Maral. Our roadmap is filled with new features and business engagements. A lot of plans are being put in place for the holy month of Ramadan, to bring new exclusive Indian content and acquire the best Arabic new titles of 2019.”
“Our roadmap is filled with new features and business engagements. We have explored a new content genre for Weyyak, where we have released for the first time a Turkish drama series dubbed into Arabic titled Maral.”
Samra has been around long enough to distinguish herself as a strong stakeholder shaping the industry in the region. Ask her the recipe of her success and she is quick to reply: “I am still growing and learning on a daily basis, and I still feel I am at the beginning of my professional career. The feelings of passion and fears that I had the first day at work still come to me now and then.
“Over the years, I have enrolled in a lot of personal and leadership courses and executive mentoring to help me gain skills. I have been blessed in reporting to visionary leaders and being mentored by thought leaders in the market during my career. I have learnt a lot from each one of them and am still learning. I have matured a lot over the years and have gained emotional intelligence skills that help me lead myself and my team to achieve our objectives and create a solid vision,” she concludes.