posted on 07/08/2012: 958 views
The use of online television sites has doubled during Ramadan, according to two of the Arab world's biggest broadcasters.
Internet catch-up services are set to attract a "substantial" chunk of advertising revenues in the region's TV industry, which is currently valued at US$2.5 billion (Dh9.18bn), executives say.
The broadcasters MBC and OSN, based in Dubai, said use of their online-TV services had increased during the Holy Month.
Sam Barnett, the chief executive of MBC Group, said viewership had doubled on its Shahid.net, which allows users to watch TV shows on demand for free.
"We're on track to double the traffic levels and media views we achieved last Ramadan," he said.
"In the first 15 days of Ramadan we've had 15 million media views, which compares to 16 million for the entire period of Ramadan in 2011."
Shahid makes money from advertising. "The revenues have grown by even more than we hoped for," said Mr Barnett.
"If the growth continues online, it will be very substantial as part of our group revenue-wise."
The pay-TV network OSN also said the use of its online-TV service had risen 100 per cent compared with the period immediately before Ramadan.
"We've seen double the number of views and registrations over the last week," said Emad Morcos, the vice president of business development, strategy and digital at OSN.
The OSN Play portal - which offers a catch-up service for series and films - launched in March. It is available free to subscribers of OSN's direct satellite service.
"Ramadan and the Olympics have been the key drivers in the viewing habits," said Mr Morcos.
"Saudi Arabia is leading the viewership numbers for us on OSN Play, followed by the UAE."
Mr Morcos declined to provide total subscriber numbers but he said there were "thousands" of new registrations to OSN Play each day and "tens of thousands" of users logging on each day.
While primarily a catch-up service, Mr Morcos said it would feature live channels soon.
"One of the things we're going to be introducing starting in September is live streaming of sports channels," he said.
Mr Morcos said OSN planned to start selling advertising on the site. "We've received a lot of feedback from the agencies wanting to start advertising on OSN Play. So that's going to be introduced very soon," he said.
Standalone Web-TV sites also report an increase in traffic during Ramadan. Istikana, which features older Arabic series and films online for free, said its traffic had risen during the Holy Month.
"In Ramadan, we're between 50,000 and 60,000 users a day, even more sometimes. Six months ago we were a bit below that - at 40,000 or so," said Samer Abdin, the co-founder of Istikana.
Ali Ajouz, a media consultant based in the UAE, said online-TV services such as Shahid.net also boost viewership on regular channels as they allow people to catch up on missed episodes and so sustain their interest in series broadcast on television in real time.
But Mr Ajouz forecast "on demand" video websites would overtake satellite viewing in seven to 10 years.
"There will definitely be a point where people viewing entertainment on [internet] devices will exceed satellite. The crossing point will be in seven to 10 years, not before."
Mr Barnett said it was too early to make predictions about online overtaking satellite-TV viewing, which he said remained MBC's "dominant business".
"There's no sign that online has damaged satellite in any way at all. In fact, TV viewing is up," he said. – The National
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