It's a region rich in culture and with undoubted hotspots of affluence, but the MENA region has yet to get rich on mass payment for premium content, an entrenched cultural habit according to a MENA industry veteran.
Speaking at IBC MENA, Fadi Ismail, director of group drama (production\distribution) for MBC, said that a lot of the proposed monetisation models attempted in the region have failed mainly due to the fact that they are intrinsically based around Western European and US cycles and habits. "In MENA such habits do not yet exist, that is why pay-TV and subscription rates are very low despite [operators] paying tens of millions of dollars for content. It's easy to go out and buy a console or smartphone but paying for content will take more time than one might think. Monetisation models are different as the mentalities are different," the MBC executive revealed.
In what could be bad news for those thinking that the region is on the edge of a digital and online explosion, Ismail added that the basic financial reality was that nobody was deserting linear TV as it is the only platform in the region whose business model allowed investment in premium content. He identified the Got Talent and Idol mainstream TV formats as being the cash cow for networks across the region. Perhaps with some subjectivity, he added that drama was a consistent performer throughout the year in terms of performance and subsequently revenues from advertising.
What Ismail was adamant about was that online would not be providing major pay-TV revenues any time soon. The key instead would be local and quality content. "The online world is complementary to the old media still in this region and will continue to be so for more than five to ten years. If in the definition of premium content, content is king, local content is king of kings. Quality local content is king of king of kings. Turkish content in the region shook up Arabic producers to do a better job. Now Turkish content is too expensive. The worst quality local series in the region will gain a much higher rating than the best US series that the country can produce."