At a time when on-demand viewing is growing at a rapid clip, Roya TV, a channel launched in Jordan in 2011, offers a valuable case study of how a mainstream broadcaster can prosper and also use online platforms to their advantage.
By any estimation, Roya TV’s performance has been impressive. Three years after its launch it became the most watched local channel in Jordan, ahead of the top state-owned channel JTV. It is the second most popular channel overall in Jordan after MBC1, according to data from Ipsos.
Much of Roya TV’s success appears to stem from the founders’ willingness to do things differently, by keeping a razor-sharp focus on plugging a proven gap in the Jordanian market.
The channel is owned by the Sayegh Group, which has interests in industries as diverse as paint and media. The group saw an opportunity to move into the TV industry in 2009 based on a study that indicated a need for a private channel in Jordan to focus on local issues and current affairs, according to Fares M. Sayegh, general manager, Roya TV.
The channel’s architects went further and carried out extensive research to see just what the Jordanian population would want from a new channel and found that the best approach would be to create original local content catering to youth and families. The group acquired an existing channel, Watan TV, which had a licence that permitted the broadcast of all types of programmes through multiple channels. After rebranding the channel, Roya TV focused on airing quality local content produced under its own steam.
“We managed to get to this position [as number-one local channel] by the third year because we concentrated a lot on the local content and there was a huge gap for that,” Fares Sayegh says. “Nobody was paying attention to local production or looking at the local talent who started by doing videos on YouTube.”
And this is exactly what Roya TV did. While other broadcasters around the world looked on as OTT platforms leached traditional traffic, Sayegh and his team viewed online channels such as YouTube in a more positive light and used them as a means of identifying talent. “The quality [of popular YouTube content] wasn’t always great, so our strategy was to pinpoint the talent out there, finance their projects and do capacity building to make sure that whatever they wanted to produce they could produce better. We offered them advice in the form of directors, DoPs and producers. In some cases we actually produced content for some of them. This gave us a very quick attraction for the viewers who had a great hunger for fresh content, but which nobody was tapping into.”
Roya TV’s general programming consists of four main periods: morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening. A significant proportion of the content is live shows focusing on news and current affairs, culture, cooking, society and sports.
The channel is currently broadcast via Nilesat across the MENA region in standard definition from Jordan Media City. However, Roya TV is upgrading to HD production and transmission and expects to have two simulcast channels, one SD and one HD, by Ramadan.
“It was a very big project and it was very much needed because a growing segment of the population is used to watching HD,” Sayegh says. “Unfortunately there is still a big percentage of people that don’t have HD capability in their home, so we have to keep the SD broadcast too.”
Roya TV started work on the upgrade a couple of months ago but as Sayegh explains, the process has been relatively straightforward because the channel is quite new and so most of its equipment was already HD-ready. This leaves just a few technical upgrades and licencing issues to organise. Sayegh adds that all content produced by Roya TV, which is about 90% of the content shown on the channel, is already recorded in HD, even though it is currently broadcast in SD.
The technical side of the production upgrade will be handled by Jordan Media City, with whom Roya TV recently signed a new five-year contract. “They will do the upgrade for the studio equipment,” Sayegh says. “We also expanded and took another studio recently, so we now have now two studios in Jordan Media City. They are upgrading their equipment and we are upgrading our field production equipment and our network which should be ready by May.”
Another important reason to produce in HD is to cater to online viewers and followers. Just as Roya TV took notice of online platforms when looking for local talent, the broadcaster has also taken care to cultivate and cater to online viewers and communities. “We’re doing HD also to be able to cater to the online business. We already have an online live stream but we would like to also have an HD live stream, and especially to launch Apple TV and Chromecast apps,” Sayegh says. “There are Jordanian and other Arab expats in the US and Europe and the rest of the world who are requesting proper streaming for those regions.”
Roya TV has a solid following on YouTube, Facebook and other social media, and a robust focus online was instrumental in propelling the channel to its current position. “One of the major success factors that got us to where we are today was our social media presence and we’re also investing heavily in that aspect,” Sayegh confirms.
While the vast majority of Roya TV’s revenues come from the main FTA channel, Sayegh and his team have long recognised the importance of having a strong online presence. The broadcaster already has a popular news website, as well as numerous Facebook and YouTube channels. This allows the channel to cater to a broader Arab audience in the Middle East and around the world. “Statistically, looking at YouTube numbers, the highest consumption we have is in Saudi Arabia followed by Egypt, Iraq, and then Jordan. We are approaching 1 billion views across our YouTube channels,” Sayegh adds.
Roya TV will also launch its own video-on-demand platform in a few months in a bid to help monetise its own content online. The platform is in development along with new apps for the various online platforms such as the news website.
“The current app and website for Roya TV is being developed right now and should be launched in soon along with our new VoD platform. It will have all the capabilities for live streaming, such as rewind, save-for-later and other features which will encourage people to watch via handheld devices or through a smart TV type option,” Sayegh says. “We’re hoping the VoD platform will generate more revenues than the current social platforms. The news website and the news app we have are already generating a good amount of revenue. Soon we’re also going to be launching a women’s lifestyle website. For every platform that we create online we make sure that we also have corresponding apps for Android, Apple and so on.”
Sayegh believes that the VoD platform will be especially useful for generating additional revenues from content such as lifestyle and food programmes which have a broad appeal across the region and beyond. Furthermore, given that Roya TV produces most its own content, the ability to repackage it for a wider online audience is hugely important.
To create additional content for the main channel and online platforms, Roya TV is expanding its team, which currently numbers about 250 people, and is also establishing some new departments. “We’re actually separating our production department from the general operation to allow us to give more attention to producing content for other entities,” Sayegh says. “We’ve been producing a lot for the local market including commercials and documentaries. We’ve also done some co-productions with broadcasters including the BBC.”
While this is impressive enough, Roya TV is setting its sights even higher. As Digital Studio went to press, Sayegh was in Dubai attending Discop Dubai, an event for content buyers and sellers. This underlines the importance that Roya TV attributes to content production and commercialisation and Sayegh confirms that the company is also developing a production house to focus on the distribution of content. “That’s why we’re attending Discop - not only to acquire content but also to sell and distribute,” he says.
Roya TV is working on a range of content to appeal to a broader market beyond Jordan and is producing different types of comedy shows, including short-form sketches and full-length 30 minute episodes of US-style sitcoms and humourous dramas.
“We’ve been working on integrating some pan-Arab stars in our content that could make the content attractive to regional players,” Sayegh says.
Roya TV has also been experimenting with other types of drama series. For example it recently produced a 15-episode drama series called ‘Unaccepted Reality’ inspired by true stories. “We took the actual stories and then scripted a 30 minute episode of each story to form a series which we are presenting in Discop,” Sayegh says. The topics are edgy and likely to provoke debate: One episode focuses on a man who takes drugs and ends up murdering his father.
Another area where Roya TV is looking to expand its operations is in talent management. “We are creating a talent management company will work in line with the talented creative people we work with such as presenters, actors and directors. We feel this is a segment that needs attention and many of the talented individuals we work with can be better utilised.”
Furthermore, a “Creative Lab” will help talent to share and develop ideas for initiatives such as pilot projects of shows. The more promising ideas can then be pitched to Roya TV’s production house. “We’re also working on having a media training academy which is also in line with our expansion this year,” Sayegh adds.
Development of ROYA TV
Roya TV is a part of the wider Al Sayegh Group family business which was originally established in 1932.
The group became involved in TV when the late Mr. Saleem Sayegh decided to acquire a TV channel, WTV, back in 2009. The channel was transformed into Roya TV, which launched in 2011. Mr. Saleem Sayegh also launched a TV station in Dubai that was previously called BNTV and which operated until 2015.
Fares Sayeg studied industrial engineering at university but always had an interest in media such music, film and TV.
“I was bored at my previous job and wanted to do something new and this just came up by coincidence and I saw it as an opportunity and I went in and started learning from scratch.
“I worked for directors, cameramen to teach me the basics of TV, how it’s done and that’s know I got to know the technical side of it. We also had consultants who helped me a lot in terms of the media,” he said.