M.Me­dia aims to at­tract niche con­sumers

M.Me­dia aims to at­tract niche con­sumers

Executive Magazine - - Contents - By Matt Nash

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

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