In the ever-evolving world of entertainment, more than 80% of viewers in the MENA region show a keen interest in watching Arabic shows. Communicate sits down with Jamie Cooke, General Manager of CEE in the Middle East and Turkey for Warner Bros Discovery, to discuss Asharq Discovery, a recently launched Arabic-language infotainment platform.
1. Can you share a brief overview of Asharq Discovery and how it came to be?
Asharq Discovery is a new venture in the infotainment sector, born from the collaboration between SRMG, an integrated media group from the MENA region, and Warner Bros. Discovery. This partnership taps into viewer preferences and the demand for Arabic-language shows and aims to enrich the Arabic-language content available for viewers, offering content for free. The platform went live in October 2023 and includes thousands of hours of premium content from Discovery's renowned catalog, carefully selected acquisitions from the MENA region, and a range of original productions. All content is re-versioned with Arabic voiceovers and graphics, and available for the first time in Arabic for free.
2. Have you noticed a growing preference for original Arabic content as opposed to existing content that is merely dubbed into Arabic?
The increasing demand for authentic Arabic content is undeniably evident. Viewers across the MENA region are growing in preference for original Arabic content, which offers narratives and storytelling that resonate with their cultural and social contexts. This shift is not just about language; it's about seeing their stories, perspectives, and experiences reflected on screen, which dubbed content may not fully capture.
At Warner Bros. Discovery, we recognize the importance of original storytelling, and it's why we're committed to developing content that speaks directly to Arabic audiences. Through our partnership, we provide a platform for dubbed content from our catalog and we’re investing in the production of original Arabic programming, which will foster regional narratives and talent, with production happening within the region.
3. Are viewers more inclined to enjoy Arabic-dubbed content from various countries, or do they tend to prefer subtitled versions? What other MENA consumer habits have you been tapping into with your streaming platforms?
Our insights at Warner Bros. Discovery reveal a subtle preference among MENA viewers regarding Arabic-dubbed versus subtitled content. The inclination varies widely depending on factors such as the genre of content, the target demographic, and the individual's media consumption habits. For instance, family and children's programming and action and adventure genres tend to be more prevalent when dubbed, as they offer ease of understanding and a more immersive experience for all age groups. Conversely, for content that is more dialogue-driven or where performance is key to storytelling, such as drama series or feature films, many viewers prefer subtitles to retain the authenticity of the original performances.
In adapting to these preferences, we ensure that our streaming platforms provide options for dubbed and subtitled content, catering to the region's diverse tastes. Moreover, we are tapping into other consumer habits, such as the MENA audience's love for mobile-first content consumption, by optimizing our platforms for mobile devices and offering downloadable content for on-the-go viewing.
Through Asharq Discovery and our streaming services, we're leveraging data-driven insights to tailor our content offerings and ensure that we meet the evolving demands of MENA consumers. By adapting to these habits and preferences, we aim to serve our audiences with content that entertains, informs, and fosters a deeper connection with them.
4. How does Asharq Discovery align its content with the cultural values of the Arab region? Can we anticipate content that resonates with Arab values?
Asharq Discovery is committed to respecting and reflecting the rich cultural values of the Arab region. Our content alignment strategy begins with a careful selection process, ensuring that the programs we choose to showcase not only entertain, but also resonate with our audience's values, traditions, and social norms. This is evident in our approach to dubbing international content with a sensitivity towards cultural nuances and our creation of original content from within the region.
We are particularly excited about the locally produced content with regional creators such as The recently launched shows The Critics and Test Drive. The Critics is a weekly program that highlights the most prominent films and box office revenues, in addition to the latest releases hosted by Passant Shamseddine, and Maher Mousli. Test Drive is a show hosted by Saudi influencer and comedian Tareq Al-Harbi that combines entertainment, competitions, and general knowledge. Such types of local shows enable us to present stories that are authentic, relatable, and genuinely representative of Arab culture and values.
Additionally, Asharq Discovery aims to be a platform where Arab viewers see their lives and experiences reflected and is aiming to launch more original shows in the next few months. From lifestyle and reality programming that mirrors contemporary Arab society to documentaries that delve into the region's history and future aspirations, we are curating a collection that speaks directly to the hearts and minds of our audience.
5. Given the current regional developments, how do you envision the future of the entertainment industry?
The MENA region's entertainment industry is undergoing a dynamic transformation, marked by rapid technological advancements, evolving consumer preferences, and a burgeoning appetite for diverse content. Looking to the future, I anticipate a continued trajectory of growth and innovation.
Digital streaming platforms are at the forefront of this revolution, offering access to various content, and it's likely to persist as viewers appreciate the convenience and personalization these services provide. The trend towards on-demand content consumption is driving traditional media to adapt, leading to a hybrid future where linear TV and digital platforms coexist and complement one another.
Furthermore, the rise of local content production is set to reshape the entertainment landscape. As viewers seek stories that reflect their own experiences and cultures, there is a growing investment in regional talent and storytelling. This focus on local narratives will satisfy regional audiences and introduce the richness of Arab culture to a global audience.
We also anticipate a more integrated entertainment experience, with cross-platform content and interactive media gaining prominence. Virtual and augmented reality is set to enhance the viewer's engagement, offering immersive experiences beyond traditional viewing.