Structure

OSN was formed through a merger between the Orbit Group, based in Bahrain, and Showtime Arabia in 2009. The pay-TV provider offers a platform with nearly 140 channels, including Western, Arabic, South Asian (Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Malayalam and Tamil) and Filipino content.

The company is headquartered in Dubai Media City and has offices in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Orbit originally operated from its headquarters in Bahrain, but shut down the office following the merger and moved its staff to the Dubai location.

OSN’s main divisions are programming (which is split up into the network’s owned and operated channels, and third party-operated channels), sales and operations, marketing, and technology.

The network’s platform is owned and operated by Panther Media Group Limited, which is registered in Dubai International Financial Centre. Kuwait Projects Company (Kipco) owns 60.5 per cent, while 39.5 per cent is held by Saudi Arabia’s Mawarid Group.

Operations

Subscribers to the OSN network receive access to blockbuster movies, television series, sports, documentaries, news, children’s entertainment and live talks shows. They can also gain access to 36 high-definition (HD) channels and 3D entertainment.

OSN owns rights from studios including Warner Brothers, Paramount, Fox, Disney, Sony, MGM, Universal and DreamWorks Disney channel, and is able to air popular channels such as Sky News, Discovery Network and National Geographic. Over the past few years, the network’s competition has significantly diminished. Saudi-based Arab Radio & Television, which used to be its main competitor, signed an agreement with OSN in December to add its five leading entertainment channels on to OSN’s platform, leaving only much smaller providers to compete for market share.

To encourage people to subscribe, OSN provides early windows of several months up to a year before the same content becomes available on free-to-air channels.

Original content is also featured on the platform. In 2011, the company launched its own entertainment channel called OSN Ya Hala, which grew to become the second most popular channel on the network. A programme called Discover Saudi, which showcases the natural beauty of the kingdom, was recently commissioned for a second series.

OSN no longer airs football tournaments, such as the English Premier League, after losing the rights to state-owned media companies such as Abu Dhabi Media Company and Qatar’s Al-Jazeera Sports in recent years. Instead it is focusing on other popular sports including rugby, golf and cricket.

Subscribers to OSN can use different technologies to view content, including internet-enabled satellite receivers and recorders, an online TV platform, and a video-on-demand service. Digital media services are planned to be added in the future.

Ambitions

OSN plans to spend more than a billion dollars in the coming years on acquiring channels, and purchasing and commissioning content.

In August, the network fully acquired South Asian content provider Pehla Media & Entertainment, which includes Bollywood entertainment and premium cricket. Earlier this year, OSN partnered with Filipino network ABS-CBN to bring four channels to its platform. While no further acquisition targets have been announced, the firm has said it is open to exploring more possibilities. In doing so, OSN is clearly differentiating its content from that offered by other networks in the region. One of the main challenges the company faces is the availability of free-to-air satellite channels. In addition, state-backed TV services, which are not meant to generate profit, present an alternative for people not looking for the specific content OSN provides.

Another difficulty the network faces is tackling the widespread use of illegally obtained content in the region. While steps have been taken to address piracy, particularly in the UAE, signal theft is still common in the Middle East, as are illegal DVD copying and internet downloads.

Analysts say pay-TV in the region is a difficult business to be profitable in, but more cash flow could become available if OSN goes ahead with an initial public offering (IPO). In June, Kipco appointed the London-based Rothschild to assist in reviewing the strategic options for the network, which could result in a second attempt to go public – about seven years ago, Showtime Arabia explored the possibility of a listing on the London Stock Exchange.

Since the Orbit-Showtime Arabia merger, the plan has been for OSN to become a public company, but it refrained from launching an IPO earlier because of the financial crisis, according to analysts. OSN has posted revenue increases and positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation in each of the three years since it was created.

Company snapshot

Date established 2009

Main business sector Media

Main business region Middle East and North Africa

Chairman Faisal al-Ayyar

Chief executive officer David Butorac