MARKUS GOLDER

Saudi Arabia 2021 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Markus Golder, CEO of Intigral, about growth trajectories, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on business, and performance expectations for the coming year.

Can you elaborate on your recent growth trajectory and relationship with the Saudi Telecom Company (STC)?

Intigral is stc's fully owned media and entertainment arm that started off in 2009 as a digital media solutions provider providing mobile-related services and IPTV services for stc. With internet bandwidths and delivery having improved significantly, we have moved to an OTT delivery over the internet, similar to Netflix, called Jawwy TV, a premium entertainment service. Intigral is working as a super aggregator offering a blend of three things: live streaming of more than 240 media channels including free-to-air channels as well as encrypted channels; video-on-demand content from several content providers with more than 23,000 Arabic and Western content movies and series; and original VOD productions that are commissioned and executed in the Kingdom or elsewhere. We are investing significantly in those productions and release around one original production per month, mainly revolving around three themes: women empowerment in Saudi Arabia; everything to do with Saudi landscapes and tourism; and inspiring youth to go above and beyond. One example was a recent original production based on partnering with the KSA karate champion. Jawwy TV is delivered via two vehicles—Jawwy TV App and Jawwy TV Home, a setup box provided by stc. There are numerous features common to both including parental controls, TV guides, pause-and-rewind functions, and catch up for the last week. In 2017, stc decided to venture into three main areas for growth: media and advertising; digital financial services, where it launched stc Pay in 2018; and ICT services for businesses and government. For stc, TV services are a tool to differentiate both its fixed and mobile services, and it is also a route for stc to serve customers beyond its three markets Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Since Jawwy TV is an OTT service delivered over the internet, we can venture into other markets in the MENA region, and we have an aggressive expansion plan that we will start to execute in 4Q2020.

What patterns have you seen as a result of the lockdown, and what has this meant in terms of revenue?

Despite the challenges that the pandemic has presented around the globe, opportunities have presented themselves for global pay TV service providers. Consumption of OTT entertainment, news, and sports content in 2Q2020 surged by around 40% according to global research institutes. Jawwy TV witnessed an increase in user rates from existing and new customers, especially with the stay-at-home advice from the Saudi government. Throughout 3Q2020, we saw an increase of around 147% for Jawwy TV App and a significant increase in Jawwy TV Home usage year-on-year. Also, during the same period we recorded a 57% increase in subscribers year-on-year, which we attribute not only to the pandemic but also to new features such as the release of new original productions as well as the promotion of new content. Most importantly, this period has proven that we are on the right track with our vision of matching all content needs through one platform and one subscription, curating aggregated content via partnerships with more than 30 global and regional networks. During this period, we have also supported the government's e-learning programs by offering to broadcast the national educational channels.

How does your partnership with OSN fit into your strategy?

Our vision is to become the leading media and entertainment provider in the country and the wider MENA region, so we are always looking for new content opportunities to enhance our expanding portfolio to meet the needs of multicultural users of all ages in our region. In this context, our partnership with OSN is definitely one of our valued assets. OSN Ultimate Movies package and Ultimate Entertainment package have been available on Jawwy TV Home since its inception, along with a number of OSN channels as part of the basic subscription. Under our new agreement with OSN, we are going two steps further and will include OSN Mix in the basic package of Jawwy TV Home as well as a number of channels such as Disney XD, Nicktoons, Discovery HD, and the ARP channels, which are newly available on Jawwy TV within the entertainment package. In addition to OSN, we have strategic partnerships with Starzplay, Fox, NBC, The Cartoon Network, and others to ensure the continuity of the exceptional content choices that cater to the entire family. Jawwy TV has also been adding value to the regional video entertainment industry through new original content at the rate of around one new title per month, which confirms our commitment to novelty and to delivering an unparalleled viewing experience.

Are you chasing additional purchases in the platform or overall subscription numbers?

Video OTT is truly a land grab market, and the global players are currently valued not on the basis of their revenues or profit generated but the number of subscribers. We are in the same game, so for many this is a new service, and our focus is on increasing the active base and, over time, increasing our average revenue per user through those additional add-ons.

What performance do you expect over the coming year?

The MENA OTT market is anticipated to continue to see growth in VOD subscription, as opposed to traditional pay TV services, which are predicted to decline over time. There is some substitution going on catering to the different ways of consumption from home, though it is paramount to be able to consume content wherever one is through OTT services. We are present in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain, the three markets where stc has its own fixed and mobile networks, and we are gradually deploying the service to other MENA markets either in cooperation with local telecom operators or in a direct-to-consumer model, where consumers pay via credit card as opposed to paying through telecom subscriptions.