M.Media aims to attract niche consumers
M.Media aims to attract niche consumers
The numbers are fuzzy, but the
trajectory is clear. More and more people will pay to watch what they want, when they want, online. Valuations of the global video on demand market — and data concerning how many hours consumers around the world spend streaming — is fragmented, hidden behind paywalls of research outfits, or based on surveys that either brand themselves as global — but cover a comparative handful of countries — or admit methodological flaws. That said, multiple companies offering subscription video on demand (SVOD) services operate on each of earth’s inhabited continents. Regardless of the actual size of the pie, M.media believes it has found a slice.
Moe Hamzeh, M’s head of content programming, and Nadim Asmar, the company’s chief financial officer, describe a product targeting, eventually, all Arabs at home and abroad (a population undoubtedly in the hundreds of millions, though emigration and a lack of reliable data makes the exact number of the world’s Arabs difficult to pinpoint). It begins with the digitization of Lebanese video culture, “[TV] series, documentaries, films, shorts, everything,” as Hamze puts it, and then adds to its catalogue content from other Arab and Middle Eastern countries. It is an idea several years and multiple iterations in the making, formally launched only recently.
M is the brainchild of Elie Khoury, a veteran of the local advertising industry. According to the commercial registry, M was founded in 2012, and its majority sharehold- er is Mercury Media Inc, incorporated in an “undefined” jurisdiction. Hamzeh explains that M initially envisioned a “freemium” business model before deciding on SVOD. Freemium is a largely ad-based revenue model whereby most users do not actually pay to subscribe. A massive number of users is key to the freemium model’s success. SVOD, by comparison, relies only on subscriptions for revenues.
Rather than attempting to be a Lebanese or Arab “Netflix,” M is seeking a cultural (as opposed to a genre) niche in the SVOD space, aspiring to “complement” rather than replace other monthly streaming services. While niche content is common in the US — with one journalist who covers Silicon Valley wondering whether “peak niche” in SVOD had been reached — SVOD services with large amounts of Arabic-language content targeted at the diaspora (rather than at residents of the Middle East seeking an alternative to cable and satellite programming) are hard to find. As a complement to other SVOD services, M potentially appeals to both.
After a soft launch in October 2016, M announced a “local Lebanese launch” in March with an outdoor advertising campaign. Once the $4 million in venture funding raised from two local banks (SGBL and LI Bank via central bank circular 331, according to Asmar) is fully deployed (“by the end of the year,” he hopes), a drive to market abroad and grow M’s library will begin in earnest. With in-house production capabilities, M will both license and create content to expand its offerings (aiming to double or triple its current 500 titles with the coming capital influx).
Hamzeh says that while M’s main focus in the short to mediumterm is building up Lebanese content, the target audience is Arabs. Even now, before a planned buying spree, independent films and documentaries with North African, Levantine and even Iranian origins are part of the M library. As part of the company’s soft launch — designed to stoke nostalgia, build brand awareness, and connecting with potential customers — M organized screenings of old Ziad Rahbani plays (digitized from footage obtained from Rahbani, Hamzeh says) in cities in the US, Canada, and Australia (the films also ran at the Sofil Empire cinema in Beirut). Hamzeh describes the feedback, including conversions to M among attendees, as “great.”
Plans for content expansion — licensing old Egyptian movies, for example — are expensive and complicated by fragmented ownership rights, Hamzeh says. Growth, he and Asmar concede, will depend on M’s ability to engage users and raise far bigger sums of financing — until they reach a critical mass and profitability. Asked if they had a ticket size in mind for the next funding round, Asmar offered only that it would be big and likely raised abroad.
More and more people will pay to watch what they want, when they want, online