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30 November 2008
The small

How the region’s media providers are using the online platform
Reg Athwal talks us through
the trials of the UAE’s first
online TV station
“Our servers crashed on the second day [be-
cause of the amount of traffic]—we didn’t ex-
pect that to happen until 30 days in or so,” says
ON THE BALL: The Reg Athwal, co-founder of oneTVO, the UAE’s

English Premier first online TV platform.
League highlights
The website, which hosts free-to-view enter-
have proven popular
tainment and information videos, launched its
online for Showtime
beta version on November 16. And, as Athwal’s
example shows, it’s proven popular. The site is
his year’s Ramadan was a have the most watched channels, we we move forward we are looking to add the result of a year of technological develop-
particularly rewarding one have the largest market share and it is more content and have more interac- ment between Ali Alsaloom, a UAE citizen, and
for fans of MBC‘s television natural that we want to step up our ef- tivity with online feedback, research, Athwal, a British entrepreneur, and presenter
output. Not only did the forts online in order to make our pres- competitions and more user-generated of oneTVO’s flagship show, Talking Tycoons.
leading pan-Arab network ence felt in that medium as well. We content. These are all areas we are look- Athwal is enthusiastic about the model that
plough hefty sacks of cash into packing want to make one of the most ing at now for implementation in the oneTVO has created. “Our slogan is ‘Show What
its schedules with big budget block- visited portals in the Arab world. And future. And we will continue to look at Matters’. We are info-driven first—what we’re
busters, it also made sure that there was we are getting there. According to ABC what else makes sense for both our cus- here to do is drive video-rich content because
never any reason to miss an episode of auditing we have secured about 6 mil- tomers and the business. people want entertainment, but people go to
its top nine most watched potboilers— lion users of our website. We know for a “While we are keen to provide more the internet for information first.”
well, for those with a working internet fact that the commercial potential of the to our customers online we are also The site is free to view. Athwal hopes that
connection anyway. internet is huge.” aware that the infrastructure required revenue will come from producing and airing
Teaming up with UAE telecommunica- to make online entertainment readily info-videos from private corporations and gov-
tions giant Etisalat, the network made its
We want to step up
and easily available is still developing at ernment departments.
most popular programmes available to different speeds across the region,” he “What we’re doing is looking at the next gen-
view free of charge on its portal, www.mbc.
our efforts online.
continues. “Until we feel comfortable eration of online networks,” he says. “You’ve
net, meaning that loyal fans could brush
We aim to dominate
that we are able to ensure a positive and got the mainstream networks putting content
up on plot developments even if they had
the market in the
enjoyable viewing experience for all of on the web, but we’re creating our own content
missed the boat the first time around. our customers we will be cautious in and we’re not competing with them.”
The utilisation of online technol-
Arab world.
our approach in this area, but we will So far the website features nine shows, which
ogy in such a way may now be common definitely offer more of our content on- will increase to 24 before its official launch. The
currency in the West—witness the suc- MBC is far from the only media or- line in the future.” content of the shows is fairly clear from the al-
cess of the BBC’s digital service—but, ganisation in the Middle East making Whether the approach is full-blood- literated names, for example: Money Matters,
by pioneering the innovation in the innovative strides online. Possession ed or cautious, it’s certain that online Restaurant Root, Career Choices, Go Govern-
Middle East, MBC showed that media of the rights to the Barclay’s English strategy will continue to be a key ele- ment and Holistic Health.
organisations in this part of the world Premiership is a sure-fire ratings win- ment in the future plans of Middle “There’s lots of competition around the world
are becoming increasingly savvy to the ner for Showtime Arabia and the pay- Eastern media organisations. With a for freeview content, but they mostly follow the
potential of the online medium. TV network has recently guaranteed a generation of internet-literate young- YouTube model, allowing anyone to upload
Expanding on this theme, Dr Am- boom in traffic on its portal by offering sters increasingly turning to the web video,” Athwal says. “But, if you take the stats,
mar Bakkar, head of new media at MBC, highlights of every game played in Eu- as a primary means of garnering news they’re still trying to work out how to monetise
tells Media Week. “We have been doing rope’s most watched football league. and information, the notion of neglect- it. Advertisers aren’t sure how to use it.”
so many things when it comes to digital Despite being fully aware of the po- ing the online side of things is one that Athwal says oneTVO will comprise 20 per
media. During 2008 we came up with tential benefits of the internet, however, will not be countenanced by influential cent original ‘entertainment’ content and 80
two major initiatives. As well as pio- Azhar Malik, deputy head of marketing figures such as Bakkar. per cent corporate videos. He expects over
neering the online service with Etisalat at Showtime, insists that his company “All media organisations are looking 5,000 videos to be available by the end of 2009.
during Ramadan, we produced special will continue to monitor online de- at different ways to improve their digital The next steps for oneTVO, Athwal says, are
‘mobisodes’ of three of our series spe- velopments closely and won’t get too presence and maximise its potential,” to raise capital, be in profit by 2012 and then to
cifically for 3G mobile in partnership gung-ho by offering a deluge of content he says. “We have TV and we have in- be in 30 cities by 2016. For now, oneTVO is un-
with Du and Zain. That involved cutting on its website. vested in TV, we have radio and we in- deterred by the financial crisis.
down standard 22-minute episodes to “We have taken some initial steps vested in that. The web—and mobile— “If people need a service, they have to part
just four minutes. in making some of our core content are just new platforms and we have a with money,” says Athwal. “The fundamentals
“We aim to dominate the market available online with the English Pre- strategy and budget to ensure that we of business have not changed.”
in the Arab world,” he continues. “We mier League highlights,” he says. “As make a success out of that as well.”
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