How do we make pay-TV commercially viable?

Vijaya Cherian, Editorial Director, BroadcastPro ME.

BeIN Sports let go of a fifth of its staff last month, and OSN, which has been trimming its staff periodically in recent months, has finally made the decision to discontinue Pehla on July 15, after the ICC Cricket World Cup concludes on July 14.

Both companies have attributed their decisions to rampant piracy in the region.

The question to ask, however, is if piracy alone is to blame, especially in the case of beIN Sports. There is no doubt that the media house has been seriously impacted by piracy.

Sceptics, however, have also questioned the wisdom of paying ridiculously high rates to secure MENA broadcast rights for sports, when the ARPUs in most North African countries are under $4.

Of course, the GCC countries have higher spending power, but they don’t have the numbers to sustain a successful pay-TV model either.

As far back as 2015 and 2016, I recall UAE broadcasters who had briefly dabbled in buying the rights to some big sporting events stating that it was just not commercially viable and they wouldn’t get their fingers burnt again. The solution? If all the broadcasters in the region collaborate and refuse to bid for sports rights unless they are available at an affordable premium that makes commercial sense in this market, we will eventually have a win-win situation.

In the meantime, we have just returned from ConnecTechAsia in Singapore, where I always hear the start of conversations before they pick up pace at IBC, NAB and CABSAT. Although there were several interesting discussions, the one that caught my attention was 5G adoption. It is believed that the increasing demand for online video content, especially 4K, VR and UHD content, will be the main catalyst for 5G adoption.

On the other hand, an industry professional at our anniversary party last month whispered ominously in my ear that 5G would see the end of television “as we know it”. Change is no longer coming. It is already here. Let’s move with the times.