Martin Stewart, the prominent British executive considered instrumental to the succesful launch of pay-TV Sky in the UK, has been appointed CEO of Dubai-based pay-TV company OSN, in a clear signal of OSN’s stepped-up efforts as competition heats up in the Middle East and North Africa pay-TV arena.
Stewart, served as chief financial officer at Sky from 1998 to 2005, when he quit, reportedly because he was beaten to the chief executive role there by James Murdoch, and became CFO of British multinational music company EMI. During his time at Sky, the subscriber base to its digital platform doubled to 7 million.
He will take office in Dubai in August, transitioning from his current job position as chief financial officer of The Football Association in the UK.
Stewart will take the reins from David Butorac, who served as OSN’s CEO from 2010 and is credited with establishing OSN as the region’s leading pay-TV network.
Butorac launched OSN Play, the first digital platform in the MENA region. He was also instrumental in building OSN’s exclusive relationships with Hollywood studios including Warner Bros., Paramount, Fox, Disney, Sony, MGM, HBO, DreamWorks and NBCUniversal.
Earlier this month OSN launched NBCUniversal’s science fiction channel Syfy across the region, while in May Viacom’s Comedy Central debuted exclusively in the region on their platform.
OSN is facing markedly increased competition from Al Jazeera-owned BeIN group which has been expanding from sports into movies. In November of 2015 they signed a five-year first-run output deal with prominent Dubai-based independent Middle East film distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment, followed by a 600-title mega deal with Italia Film International, the prominent Beirut-based distributor with longstanding exclusive relationships with major Hollywood studios and indies.
BeIN group in March acquired full ownership of U.S. studio Miramax with its 700-title library and its film and TV production capability.
The pay-TV market in the MENA region is experiencing double digit growth. According to a report issued last month by London-based firm IHS, the number of pay-TV households in the Middle East and North Africa grew in 2015 by 10% to 4.95 million. This prompted a 37% year-on-year revenue rise from subscriptions to 1.17 billion euros ($ 1.33 billion) last year.
IHS forecasts that pay-TV subscribers in the MENA region will steadily continue to grow in coming years, reaching 6.54 million pay-TV households by 2020, which represents a more than 30% growth margin. During this period revenues are expected to double to more than 2 billion euros.