Filmmakers in the UAE are being given an opportunity to show their work thanks to OSN's new Asli service, a dedicated streaming platform for local content that is now available free through the pay television provider's Wavo streaming service.
OSN has licensed about 40 hours of content for phase one of Asli – which is Arabic for "original" – with commissioning of original work under way for the second stage. OSN also hopes to sell locally produced content to foreign markets, as well as its own Middle East and North African base. "We're one of the leading entertainment companies in the Middle East, and we're all about great storytelling and supporting the talented storytellers we're working with to reach the biggest audience possible," OSN chief executive Martin Stewart explains. "There's so much great content out there that maybe hasn't been nurtured the way it should be, and we want to act on that."
Stewart adds that he hopes the local creatives' work will find an audience beyond the Middle East. "We're a company from this region supporting local content creators to make sure that stories from the region are heard both in the region and beyond," he says.
"This is content we can take outside the Middle East and North Africa, so stage one is licensing existing content. Stage two is commissioning and co-producing original content, and then we'll be looking to sell that into other markets," he adds.
With that in mind, all the content on the Asli platform will be subtitled in English and Arabic, with other languages expected to follow. The initial line-up on the channel includes films that have yet to make an impact outside the festival circuit, such as Neel Kumar's Security, locally produced horror from director Faisal Hashmi and the return of the popular travel show Peeta Planet.
OSN has also opened a dedicated studio for the filmmakers that it is collaborating with via Asli, and hopes to assist talent with everything from shooting and post-production to licensing and legal issues. "We're the only facility of this kind in the region, and we're going to be open 24/7 for content creators and educating about revenue streams and distribution as well as the practical side of filming," Asli founder and OSN legal counsel Ismat Abidi says. "We want to create an environment where a creator can literally come in and shoot, edit, get advice on IP matters, and license their work in one visit, and we'll eventually be replicating the model around the region, too."
Local talents are excited by the launch of Asli. "It's really cool that some of these films are finally getting widely distributed, because there's so little opportunity for audiences to see your work outside the festivals," says Hashmi, who has four shorts screening on the new platform at launch. "They're looking at commissioning new work, too, so it's a really exciting time to be a filmmaker."
TV presenter and producer Layne Redman, who has hosted TV shows including Dubai One's Out and About and World of Sports, doesn't yet have content on Asli, but that may well be set to change.
"I've actually got a pilot I've been trying to get filmed with my production partner," he says. "We've been trying to get it off the ground with production companies, but it's a really slow process and we keep being delayed. Something like this could be perfect for us, so I'll be looking into it further."
The online streaming marketplace is rather crowded at the moment with competition from global giants such as Netflix, as well as regional services such as icflix, but Stewart seems confident that OSN's latest offering can stand out from the crowd.
“I think the content creators themselves will help us to get the word out,” he says. “We’re talking about award-winning content creators with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, and they’re all invested in promoting and sustaining it. It’s in all our interests to make Asli a success.”
As for new material, Stewart is keen for potential newcomers to the Asli family to call in at the new studio, whether they have a finished film or a germ of an idea.
“Come to us if you’ve got something great, and if we agree, it’s just about a handshake,” he says. “You could come with just an idea and we’d support that, too. If you want to learn, you want to grow or you’re already an established presence, just come and see us – we’d love to see you and work together.”