The birth and stratospheric rise of streaming services have completely transformed the way that we watch. Over less than a decade, our viewing habits have evolved: from TV channels and Friday-night-DVD-rentals, to an endless array of choices (personalised to your individual tastes) being made available with just a few clicks.
Not only has this change revolutionised the way we access and interact with media, but it has also extended to adverts and our viewing habits, enacting a complete cultural shift in the way the world watches.
In short, few sectors have experienced such a rapid digital transformation as that of TV and broadcasting. In fact, Blockbuster – a video and DVD rental company that went bust in 2014 – famously had the opportunity to buy Netflix for just US$50mn in 2000 (an absolute steal considering the streaming service’s valuation these days). At the time, Blockbuster essentially laughed the offer down, doubting that the streaming service had anything to offer the market.
Now, movie and video streaming represent one of the largest and fastest growing global sectors, with a number of pioneering providers continuously evolving these services. Such industry figures are connecting viewers across the world with more choices, more autonomy and more flexibility.
To find out more about this dynamic industry, we spoke to Peter Riz, the former CTO of OSN. We discussed his predictions for the media streaming industry, the launch of OSN’s new streaming service, the company’s future plans, and the digital transformation – and consequent cultural shift – that we can expect to see over the next few years.
Digital transformation, and the move to expand from satellite-based services
OSN is the leading entertainment company for premium content across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with the rights to broadcast in 22 countries across the region.
The modern-media giant is the exclusive partner to the largest tv studios across the world – across both its box and streaming services. Its partnerships with studio majors include HBO, NBC Universal, Fox, Paramount, MGM, Disney, and Sony, no less.
Peter Riz, a recent OSN addition, boasts over 20 years of experience in the prestigious TV and media industry, having overseen rapid change during his tenure. Originally from Budapest, Riz moved to Dubai and joined OSN just over three years ago.
“OSN was originally a traditional, satellite-based pay TV service. The mission was to provide high quality entertainment to the MENA region. At that time, internet connectivity wasn’t that developed, so the best and easiest way to achieve this was to use satellite distribution. That was OSN’s original business, and it was very successful in the region.”
Then, over the last few years, as the tendency and trends turned to digital distribution, OSN followed suit and also shifted focus to the streaming experience, instead.
When Riz joined the company, OSN’s mission was to build a new digital streaming platform that the company owned, which meant they could be sure it would provide an experience matching that of Netflix and other big companies in the streaming domain.
“Today, OSN runs these two things parallel – they are building the user experience, the commercial and the technical synergies between the satellite world and the streaming world. And that's really what the mission here is: to find all these synergies and provide the user experience in both domains.”
OSN’s digital infrastructure changes, and a shift towards hybrid approaches
According to Riz, a wave of new mobile and data technologies has brought about a change in the way that companies perceive physical infrastructure components.
“Traditionally, the broadcast industry is about equipment, devices and on-prem data centres – BIG data centres. Five or ten years ago, a CTO would have had an equally good knowledge of all the software, all the hardware and all the necessary infrastructure, including how to build and operate the data centre,” commented Riz.
Today, most of the trends have moved towards “using and utilising the cloud” and, from a hardware point of view, “most of the added value is somehow connected to the software development”.
Riz explains how, in the past, a broadcast company tried to own everything and build (or at least integrate) all the physical components together on their own. Now, though, “the balance between the components that you buy and that you build has changed”.
This means that, rather than broadcasters trying to build everything for their end-to-end streaming platforms themselves, a hybrid architecture approach is becoming the norm, instead.
As the market and the available components expand, the goal now becomes understanding “how to build all these cloud based services together, in a way that will really provide the competitive advantage for your company and give you the opportunity to customise the user experience based on your needs.”
OSN still runs some of its infrastructure operation in an on-prem environment, delivering a modular hybrid platform that separates different functions in the platform using the microservice-based architecture and adopting a hybrid approach to component construction.
“How I see it, that's really the trend in the entire industry,” says Riz.
“Since broadcasters no longer try to cover end-to-end technical responsibilities on their own, there is much more flexibility, meaning they can build these types of hybrid systems. Now, it is down to companies to maintain well-managed, balanced buy-and-build strategies.”
The launch of OSN+, and bridging the gap between old and new
By deploying these technological advancements and infrastructure changes, OSN has been able to develop its offerings to include a brand new streaming service.
Currently, this launch is the main area of growth for OSN, spearheading the company’s digital journey and changing the way that they broadcast.
But, in such a period of transformation within the industry, a key priority becomes maintaining the old (and still successful) service, while consistently making new additions that the market demands.
“OSN is also working out how to build a bridge between the legacy broadcast world and the new streaming world,” Riz explains.
“Sometimes, as a CTO, I say that I need to run two different organisations. One is responsible for the legacy technology, and the other is responsible for the new technology.”
According to Riz, OSN’s vision is that, in the near future, its viewers will be able to have the complete TV experience – without needing any additional satellite capability.
“OSN has a plan to release a new hybrid set top box to the market very soon, which, from a technical point of view, is connected to the new streaming ecosystem and carry only some base services from the satellite world.”
“Again, the goal is to utilise the same components and achieve an organic transformation between the current state, this hybrid state and the final state, which is the internet-connected sector box.”
What’s next for OSN, and what can we expect for the future of the media streaming market?
Looking to the future, partnerships remain one of the most critical factors in OSN’s growth strategy.
“The role and the added value of the strong local brands is, I think, hugely important,” Riz comments.
“A brand like OSN can really talk to the local customers and can create the right mix of contents, as well as guide and help to discover the content in a way that is appealing to the market. I really believe that, based on the recent trends and changes in the industry, its long-term partners rediscover this value.”
In order to provide the best possible user experience, OSN is working hard to build and strengthen its partnerships.
“In this industry, we always say that the whole industry is about three things: the exclusivity, because you want to create revenue quickly that you can then reinvest into the next content; the partnerships, because they help us to maximise the content monetisation capability of the industry; and how we manage and utilise the long-tail content.”
When asked what OSN's broadcasting services will look like in five years’ time, Riz laughs and says: “This is one of the questions that keeps us up during the night!”
“If you follow the industry and the trends in the industry, all the changes and all the directions being taken are changing very, very quickly.”
One such emerging trend that Riz comments on is the return to a more conventional TV-style viewing – even amongst streaming services.
“In the last few months in the industry, we’re rediscovering how television can be television again. For example, Netflix is talking about advertisements and creating a more channel-like experience; Roku has a lot of initiative to turn the television back to television.”
“You see more and more partnerships, as if the industry has just again realised that the strong local brands like OSN can add really good value and help – even the big brands – to monetise their content.”
“All these business trends really dictate how OSN uses the technology, how they broadcast and how they do the distribution. So, one of my main roles was to keep everything flexible, secure the basics, and be ready to integrate with the outside world in a different way than before.”