Dubai-based OSN to charge $10 a month for online TV service

Company says there are ‘no current plans’ for an initial public offering

Hind Mustafa - Al Arabiya News, Dubai
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The pay-TV network OSN on Sunday launched a paid online television platform, in an attempt to provide a Netflix-style service in a region rife with piracy.

The Dubai-based firm intends to charge users of its ‘Go by OSN’ platform around $10 per month, with the service open to both OSN subscribers and new users.

The service complements its existing ‘OSN Play’ platform, which is available only to existing satellite-TV subscribers.

“You don’t have to be an OSN subscriber to use ‘Go’, and it gives you access to a vast library of premium content,” David Butorac, chief executive of OSN, said on Sunday.

‘Go’ will offer a selection of shows that already appeared on OSN channels “about 18-24 months” after first broadcast, according to Emad Morcos, senior vice president of Business Development and Digital at OSN.

But Morcos added that the service “will not just copying what is on OSN; we are looking at diversifying content that traditionally may not be broadcasted on the linear service, and may be more appropriate for digital.”

Go “will deliver well over 5,000 hours of licensed [Arabic and English] content at its launch,” as well as children’s content, Butorac said.

OSN plans to introduce productions in other languages at a later stage, Butorac added. The company airs Bollywood and Tagalog shows on its regular TV channels, but ‘Go’ launched with only Arabic and English content available.

The ‘Go’ application is available on PCs as well as Android and iOS devices, with each subscription allowing two concurrent streams across two devices.

By July, each ‘Go’ subscription will continue to limit viewing to two simultaneous streams, but will increase the number of devices up to five.

OSN, which has annual revenues of about $700 million, says it chose to introduce ‘Go’ at a time when regional consumers are watching more content online.

“Internet connectivity is growing at an incredibly fast pace. Connectivity in Qatar is at about 86 percent, and the UAE will probably close at about 90 percent connectivity by the end of 2014,” Morcos said.

However, ‘Go by OSN’ faces tough competition given the widespread online piracy in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the existence of rival online-TV services such as icflix and Istikana.

Meanwhile, Butorac signaled that OSN has no current plans for an initial public offering, but said “this could change one day.”

Kuwait Projects Co (KIPCO), which owns 60.5 percent of OSN said in March it plans to start the IPO process “within weeks”. But Butorac said that such a move is not imminent.

“The shareholders are looking at the options that they have for the future and one of those is to approach the equity markets. But, as it stands today, we have no active plans or timetable,” Butorac said, according to Reuters. “We’re generating significant free cash and so there are no current funding needs for the company.”

He said London was one of many places OSN would consider listing, also naming Nasdaq and “the local markets” as other possibilities, Reuters said.

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