Mid-East needs silver bullet for HDTV

To date, high-definition TV has made zero impact in the Middle East/North Africa region, says Nick Grande, MD at Dubai-based broadcast consultancy ChannelSculptor. Speaking at this week’s CabSat event in Dubai, Grande said there were very real risks that satellite could miss out completely on HDTV’s impact. “The only prospect to kick-start HDTV in the MENA region is next year’s 2010 soccer World Cup out of South Africa,” he argued.

Grande was launch director for MTV Arabia, the free-to-view version of the popular music channel, and was for several years strategy director at pay-TV operator Showtime Arabia. He said: “Irrational competition and the lack of cooperation between MENA satellite broadcasters is stifling HDTV. If regional broadcasters don’t learn to co-operate by 2010, they will lose out to the telcos within 5 years, and HDTV over satellite will disappear.”

Grande singled out pay-TV company ART’s coverage of the 2010 World Cup as the “silver bullet” for HDTV, explaining that “free to air broadcasters can finance the launch of HDTV channels, but they can’t get HD set top boxes into the market, and without boxes nobody will be watching. Only the pay-TV providers can build a critical mass of households watching HDTV, and they need compelling HD content to do it. The World Cup is essential – it’s the TV equivalent of food.”

He told CabSat delegates that the 2010 World Cup could see 500,000 suitable MPEG4 set-top boxes released into the market. (ART has the TV rights). However, Grande calls for closer co-operation between the region’s main pay-TV players – although recognises that there is divergence in terms of conditional access, which only makes the challenge harder to engineer. The soccer World Cup only lasts for a month.

“HDTV is future-proofing the industry, and nobody stands to gain if it fails. If the rights holders for the international football leagues can co-operate with ART on HDTV then everyone will benefit,” Grande said.