The biggest impediment is [consumer] willingness to pay for content

For the first in our pre-event interviews with speakers confirmed to attend the IPTV Forum Middle East & Africa, we speak to Julian Herbert, Principal Analyst for Broadband at Informa Telecoms & Media, and Conference Chairman for both days of the event.

Mr. Herbert directs the research for two services: the World Broadband Information Service, an online database of subscriber data and operational data covering the fixed telephony, broadband and media sectors; and the Broadband and Internet Intelligence Centre, an online source of written analysis and data about broadband and Internet, incorporating Telecom Markets, one of the world's oldest consecutively published telecoms newsletters.

Where does IPTV currently stand in the MEA region, and what growth do you think it will experience in the next 12-24 months?

JH: At the moment, IPTV has a tiny share of the market in the region (about 1%), but we would expect reasonable growth over the next couple of years. As FTTx is rolled out in Dubai, Saudi and Qatar, we would expect operators to bundle services as has happened in Europe. The bandwidth requirements of IPTV drives justification for investing in FTTx.

What are the major impediments to further growth, and do you expect these to be resolved?

The biggest impediment is the willingness of populations to pay for content, as there has traditionally been vast amounts of free-to-air content available over direct-to-home satellite. The key to solving this is a combination of exclusivity and quality of experience: if IPTV can offer both, it has a real chance of securing market share provided it is offered at a cost which makes it attractive.

Who do you think will become the big players in the MEA IPTV market?

The biggest players, should they choose to offer walled-garden service, will be the big incumbents. I'd predict with confidence that Saudi Telecom, Etisalat and Q-Tel could be big in terms of subscriber volumes. There are signs that other incumbents such as Telecom Egypt and Algerie Telecom are making investments in fibre which will both enable and drive IPTV roll out, but perhaps initially in these cases as a very premium service.

Do you think consumers in the region genuinely want IPTV, given the abundance of DTH?

I'm not convinced that consumers will want to pay for IPTV unless it offers an experience which is significantly better than free DTH, or unless it offers content which providers on other platforms do not. At the moment, where consumers have genuine choice, they choose free. There are of course incentives for operators to deploy IPTV: it underwrites the deployment of FTTx; it has the potential for delivery of HD and on-demand content; it offers intriguing possibilities for enhanced services based on interactivity. So, at the moment, interest in IPTV is driven by operators' desire to sell, rather than consumer demand.