Is Watch iT worth it?

On Thursday, May 16, satellite channel ON E aired a statement announcing that the newly launched government streaming platform Watch iT was offering its services for free until the end of the month, and that unsatisfied subscribers can now have their fees refunded.

TV viewers in Egypt await Ramadan from year to year for guaranteed entertainment, namely in the form of TV series — traditionally thirty or more — all being broadcast in parallel during the month. Those who couldn’t handle the commercial breaks on TV or weren’t free when their favorite show aired could simply binge it later on YouTube, as each production company and/or satellite channel would upload their show’s episodes day by day. This year, however, things have changed — drastically.

For one, over half the TV series screening this season are produced by one company: Synergy, whose owner, Tamer Morsi, is also the head of Egyptian Media Group — which is run by the General Intelligence Services-affiliated Eagle Capital — and owns nearly half of all the major satellite channels, and simultaneously falls under the recently established United Group for Media Services. The latter also owns D-Media, which is directly controlled by General Intelligence Services head Abbas Kamel, and a number of other satellite channels. In light of this monopoly over both production and exhibition platforms, the state decided to take it up a notch: No more YouTube. If you can’t follow the shows on TV, you can only watch them on the state’s new streaming service: Watch iT.

Despite understandable outrage, many viewers still tried to sign up to the new platform, but the process wasn’t very smooth.

According to Thursday’s statement, this recent development came after “attempts were made by hackers to breach the platform’s information security system, based on which management decided to temporarily block it for a few days, until the problem was fixed.” However, the speed with which the application was hacked (it was launched on May 1) only proves that it was poorly secured from the very beginning.

Text of the statement issued by Egyptian Media Group

“All the information needed to access the application’s database was right there; it’s just like writing your username and password in a public Facebook post then wondering how you were hacked,” says web developer and digital security researcher Seif Khaled.

Accessing the application’s database allowed hackers to upload the existing series’ episodes on YouTube and other free platforms so that they are no longer exclusively on Watch iT (as producers and the application’s creators had intended it to be). It is easy to see the result of the security breach that occurred if you search for any of the TV series on Google — they’ve all been pirated.

The application only contains 15 shows, all produced by Synergy, in addition to five programs produced by channels that are all part of United Group, including DMC, ON E and Al-Hayat.

The winding road to Brinseesa Beesa

Since the application was now for free, I figured why not try it? I hadn’t heard of any good TV series this season, but had come across some hilarious jokes about Mai Ezzedine’s performance in Brinseesa Beesa (Princess Beesa), which made me a little curious.

But as soon as I accessed Google Play to download the application, I realized that it wasn’t just Khaled who had an unsatisfying experience with Watch iT: The application’s overall rating did not exceed 1.1 out of 5 stars, even though it had been downloaded more than 50,000 times. Nearly 6,000 negative reviews cited a host of technical problems. With more research, I found out it had the same rating on iOS’s App Store — not the most encouraging of indicators.

I also noticed that the application is classified in the wrong category on Google Play: It is listed under “Video Players & Editors,” which groups it with editing programs like Adobe Premiere, whereas it should be labeled under “Entertainment” like other streaming services, including Netflix and SHAHID.

The app’s latest update is recorded as to have taken place on May 16, the same day the relaunch was announced, but it does not mention anything about the app being free, as specified in the statement.

The application is small in size, at least — it was relegated from 9 megabytes to 6 megabytes in the most recent update, and it is quick to load. Even though the interface could have been better, I had no problems setting up a new account. However, I was not able to sign up for free because I kept getting asked to choose a monthly payment method and to fill in my credit card details first.

Because I would never provide my bank information to an application that has not yet been proven to be secure, I preferred to take a look at the platform’s website instead. To my surprise, I discovered that subscribers were allowed a one-week free trial, without the need to fill in any payment details. I created another account with a fake email to get my free week, tried signing in through both the website and the application using it, and succeeded both times.

I could finally watch Brinseesa Beesa — only I wish I hadn’t.

Is it worth it?

But what about when the free trial ends? Is the application worth its LE100 a month fee?

As one Google Play reviewer puts it: “To the creators behind Watch iT, I downloaded your application and it simply doesn’t work. Please bring back EgyBest because it’s better than any other platform. At least it offers quality content.”

Internet users do not miss free streaming (and pirating) platform EgyBest — which was blocked on May 14, along with eight similar websites — because they want to watch this Ramadan’s TV shows; it’s evident that this has been the weakest TV season in years. But EgyBest is home to a massive library of films and TV series from around the world, not just from Egypt. The most significant of these is HBO’s Game of Thrones, the finale of which is set to air this Sunday. Needless to say, viewers are frustrated at the timing of the block. There is, after all, no Game of Thrones on Watch iT, only Brinceesa Beesa and the like.

And so, like a people’s hero, EgyBest has announced its return via a new Twitter account which has amassed more than 5,000 followers in less than two days. There will be no surrender, their first tweet announced: EgyBest is back with a new website — same function, different URL.

Tweet by EgyBest’s new account announcing that a website similar to the one that has been blocked is currently under construction, with 60 percent of the old content and more to be added soon.

The question is, will people support the pirates behind EgyBest, or pay for a Watch iT subscription? The answer depends on just how much they’re willing to sacrifice for Brinseesa Beesa and other, similarly abysmal shows.

Islam Salah al-Din 

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