HDTV requires 'commercialisation' in MENA

Rebecca Hawkes | 21-05-2013

Commercialisation is key to the development of the high definition (HD) television market in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), according to a Dubai-based broadcast consultancy and local satellite platform.

There are an estimated 650 free-to-air (FTA) channels in MENA, comprising over 70% of the region's total number of channels. However, globally FTA represents fewer than 10% of the 30,000 plus TV channels worldwide.
"More than 50% of MENA's HD channels are government-owned and 80% of these are free-to-air, limiting the commercialisation of HD," stated Nick Grande, managing director of ChannelSculptor consultancy.
"Commercialisation of HD requires channel encryption, paving the future path for paid subscription and the development of a low-pay TV model. However, encryption is perceived as a dirty word in this region as governments believe that it will undermine emerging HD audiences," Grande added.
Mohamed Youssif, CEO of YahLive, an HD-only broadcast platform serving the region, said: "Consumers are being forced to settle for low quality HD broadcasts as the MENA market itself doesn't provide broadcasters with great financial incentives, thereby depriving consumers of the real emotion-evoking 'being there' HD experience. We can go on about how HD is hot and SD is not, but what lies at the core of unlocking the MENA broadcast industry's potential is consumer awareness and industry collaboration."
In 2009, there was just one HD channel in MENA, compared to Europe's 130. "Now, more than 10% of MENA channels are broadcast in HD compared with 9.3% in Europe – MENA's broadcast market appears to be ahead of the curve, but at what price?" said Grande.
Standard definition, or poor quality channels are perceived to be HD purely because the viewer has a high definition television, so confusion reigns in the region about what is a 'true HD viewing experience,' according to Youssif.
His comments echo those last week of Arabsat's vice president and chief commercial officer, Nabil Shanti, who claimed it would take five years before HD really took hold in the Middle East.
YahLive now carries over 50 of the existing 100 HD channels in the region, according to the UAE based platform – a joint venture between Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat), and global satellite operator SES. It broadcasts via the Yahsat satellite at 52.5 degrees East.