Middle East merger 'addressing fragmentation'
Rose Major

The merger of two of the Middle East’s competing pay-TV platforms is partly aimed at addressing the fragmentation of the region’s pay-TV sector which has “not helped the consumer to make his mind up,” according to Samir Abdulhadi, president and CEO of Orbit Group. A by-product is that the platforms are also likely to see “tens of millions of dollars” in synergies.

Abdulhadi said that with so many platforms competing for the same content, the platforms had pushed up the price of content without being able to offer consumers a total package.

Marc-Antoine d’Halluin, CEO of Showtime Arabia and of the new platform, said he is “utterly convinced” that the market for pay-TV in the Middle East is as potentially big as elsewhere, despite the region historically being slow to sign up, and despite the plethora of free-to-air channels available.

As in other markets where there are two or three competing platforms, there will be a sector that is unwilling to subscribe to platforms that don’t offer all content, said d’Halluin. But the rationale behind the merger is to create a pay-TV “one-stop shop”.

“All Hollywood movies are on our platform. All without ads. All in wide screen. And we started in HD last week. All these things will unlock the potential of the pay-TV market in the region,” d’Halluin asserted.

Logistically, however, merging the two platforms will be a hard and perhaps lengthy task, as always with DTH mergers. “If we have to migrate [one set of subscribers], which we will need to do, that takes time and a lot of logistics and know-how….It will take the time it needs.

“Eventually we will come to the right technology, the right HD-compatible box, the right DVR.”

While all that takes place, the platform is already starting to share channels and is “not losing time”, said d’Halluin. There will be three promotional periods including one starting immediately. Orbit viewers will have immediate access to five premium Showtime channels including Showmovies 1, Showseries, Showcomedy, Showsports 3 and E! Entertainment, while Showtime viewers will be able to watch Super Movies, America Plus and Super Comedy from the Orbit bouquet.

One-stop shop or not, competition to the new platform in the region remains strong. There are some 500 free-to-air satellite channels in the region, with satellite operator Nilesat expecting over 1,000 by 2012. And the other existing pay-TV platform, ART, will also be joined by an HD-focused platform backed by Echostar.

But d’Halluin insists the merged platform will “have everything one can dream of”. It is, he says, looking at a bright future. But d’Halluin also does not discount potential conversations with ART. “We will be focusing on integrating the two platforms. If there are potentials for other combinations, we will consider them,” he said.