The Perfect Hotspot?

Claudia Vaccarone, Head of Market Research and Customer Experience at Eutelsat, shares market research on the 7/8 degree West hotspot, and what it means for the future of broadcasting in the MENA

Tell me a little about 7/8 degrees West. Why is it a good hotspot for the MENA region?

We just conducted some market research in all the Arab countries. It’s actually an update of the research that we have already done in 2013. This time we surveyed six countries which account for 76% of the TV homes, so it gives us a good sense of the changing trends, and one of the key highlight is that, first of all, the satellite base keeps on growing. We have already seen in 2013 that nine homes out of 10 receive television primarily through satellites in the MENA region, so satellite is real core digital infrastructure for multi-channel viewing, and within this space, which is estimated to be 56 million homes, 52.3 million homes receive actually their satellite signal from the 7 and 8 West neighbourhood, which is also up, growing by 2.4 million homes and 7% like-to-like assessment since 2013.

So we really see the position establish itself as the hub for multi-channel viewing and we link it to the strong lineup, as people are watching because there is interesting and relevant content for them. There are 1,264 channels that are distributed via 7/8 West. The majority are free-to-air channels, a variety of both Arabic but also international news channels, and there is also a strong base of encrypted channels via the pay TV platforms that we carry.

There is also an acceleration in the HD channels broadcast. The number of HD channels has grown by 37%, from 109 in 2013 to 149 channels today, and this is actually growing much faster than the general market. The total number of HD channels in the region grew 3% in the same period of time. There is a real acceleration, which is setting the ground for a good HD ecosystem.

Do you see this trend continuing until 2020? Will there be continuous growth of HD, or do you think it will plateau and 4K will take over?

We saw from our research, first of all, that 50% of the TV houses in the whole region are equipped with a primary TV set that is cathode ray tube-based. So clearly this is a huge audience which will be upgrading their TV sets in the next couple of years, and they will go toward HD and toward the standard last generation of flat panels, and there is going to be a portion that will also go toward the 4K beautiful high-end screens that are already available in the region. So on the one hand we see the installed based on the ground evolving in these two directions.

4K probably is going to be more niche in the beginning, but at the same time we also know from our research that 50% of the consumers that participated have already expressed awareness of 4K: they either have heard about it or they have seen screens in the stores and out of this base, 7.2 million declare wanting to purchase a 4K screen within the next 12 months.

We know from GFK that there were already 1.2 million 4K screens sold by the end of 2015. So there is definitely a trend and momentum. The content – that is coming. We’ve seen from this year that there has been an increasing number of catalogues that are arriving. We have seen at this year’s MIPCOM and other content events that there is a format they will be ideally suited for, a specific genre. It’s for sports, movies, documentaries, not necessarily for news or animation. We don’t see 4K cannibalising into HD; the two formats will continue to develop. Specifically in the region, I think there is room for both, and we are ready to accommodate this growth with the 7/8 West neighbourhood.

Have you seen more growth in the Middle East or in North Africa, and why do you think you are seeing that sort of growth?

My understanding is that it is pretty homogenous. The number of channels that are broadcast from 7/8 West have certainly come in from all of the countries within the region. We are very proud of that, that we have an orbital position that is addressing the whole region but also represents the whole region.

I want to highlight the fact that also, in terms of equipment, the number of HD TV sets has seen considerable growth. 34% of satellite homes and TV homes today in the MENA region, that’s about 20 million, are equipped already with an HDTV set, growing steadily since 2013. It was 14.4 million then, and when we consider the 7/8 West installed base the percentage is even higher, around 46%! This is clearly linked with the growing line-up of HD channels, and increasing HD content available to enjoy.