Communicate spoke with Rolla Karam, Interim Chief Content Officer of OSN, to discuss the launch of OSN Originals, OSN's content strategy and what it means for the future of the brand in the region.
What does the launch of OSN originals mean for the brand?
The launch of OSN Originals represents a new era of content resilience for OSN, that serves the constantly evolving tastes and needs of the people of the Middle East and North Africa. As a leading regional entertainment hub, we bear a unique responsibility to give our audience content that resonates and taps into their passions and aspirations. And this is not simply a trend, but an evolution of our audience and our foray into originals is our response to that.
Under the OSN Originals umbrella sits the recently launched star-studded Season 3 of A’adet Regala, the comical food reality TV show Yalla Neta’asha, and the gripping Syrian war drama No Man’s Land in partnership with Fremantle.
What's more, the latest addition to the OSN Originals roster announced just last week is Curfew, a feature-length Egyptian film directed by one of the stalwarts of Egyptian cinema, Amir Ramses, which will be premiering at the Cairo Film Festival in December.
The launch of OSN Originals marks another milestone in our journey following a successful brand relaunch and the Disney+ Originals partnership announced back in April 2020, so it’s a really exciting time for us.
Why launch all this during this period?
Looking at consumer consumption habits, we can say that original productions have a strong appeal to our local audience, especially when it brings stories that reflect their culture and mirror their reality. Our mission is to answer our consumers’ desires, so this was a natural and strategic choice to invest in that space.
Did the pandemic act as a catalyst for this launch?
No, not at all. Over the years, we’ve proven our mettle in producing successful original content, with different successful Arabic productions and while Originals is the continuation of our belief in the importance of local content, we’re now structuring this as a long-term strategy, that will translate into a library of unique, never-before-seen and never-before-told stories.
We currently have 1,500 hours of Arabic-language acquired and original content on our platform, [worth] double-digit millions of dollars. In 2021, we are looking at doubling our investment towards our Arabic content, split between acquisition and original production. And more importantly, Arabic and original productions together will represent 25% of our content line-up for 2021.
What will be the content strategy of OSN originals?
Our vision is to bring stories that have the power to move our audience. Our creative teams are on a mission to bring content that is exciting and entertaining, because it’s closer to home. And we’re seeing the success of this strategy already with the adaptation and local production of the international format – Come Dine With Me is a good example. The format was selected because of its theme that revolves around hospitality – a tradition that the people of this region are proud of. We have handpicked the show contestants from different Arabic-speaking countries to bring the cultures of these countries closer and to celebrate our differences in a light-hearted and fun way.
Another example is the reworking of the Egyptian star-studded hit A’adet Regala into a contemporary format for a more diverse pan Arab audience. The edgy nature of the title and the way it portrays our beloved celebrities in a never-seen-before context has created a bridge with their fans and generated massive attention and buzz at a regional level.
Overall, the guiding principle of our content strategy is to be inclusive enough to embrace the diversity of our audiences, to be a celebration of their cultures, similarities, and differences all at the same time; hence our decision not to limit ourselves to a specific format. Whether it’s a scripted or non-scripted piece of content, the story itself and how relevant it is to the people of this region will determine its originality.
What capabilities will you have to build internally?
We are currently on the hunt for the best and brightest talent across the world, as we look to create a cutting-edge team of passionate storytellers to disrupt and transform content in the MEA region for 2021 and beyond. New roles have been created across several sectors including Directors of Content for Movies, Series, Arabic, Kids & Lifestyle, and Factual, with the aim of hiring a team to contribute to, create, and shape future content across our channels and streaming service in the MEA region. The selected candidates will be responsible for curating content that will drive viewership across all platforms.
We are the leading network in the region and have more than 50 nationalities working for us, from all over the world. We also back our decision with analytics, as we have data collected for over 20+ years, and we can see the evolving trends and preferences of our subscribers.
What kind of partnerships are you looking at?
We consider supporting local producers, screenwriters, and talent as part of our responsibility. So, forging partnerships with a new generation of storytellers will continue to be key for us. We want to embolden them to tell their stories, without being encumbered by prohibitive commercial or other burdens that may hinder authentic storytelling. We want to give a chance to [showcase] bold storylines and strong narratives that reflect the evolving aspirations of the region.