Arabsat’s 9th Atheer took place in Salalah, Oman this year, and drew many of the operator’s customers and honourary dignitaries.
Salalah is an extremely popular tourist destination for people looking to relax and put their feet up. Whether it’s the pristine beaches where fishermen still haul in the catch of the day at the crack of dawn, or the lush plantations dotted with banana and coconut trees, Salalah has a spot for anyone looking to be one with nature.
The forum started with Khalid Balkheyour, President and CEO of Arabsat, addressing the honoured guests and customers and thanking them for their continuing support. He extolled the virtues of growth at the 26-degree East position and explained plans for expansion and integration within the Arab community.
Wael Al Buti, VP and CCO of Arabsat, also gave a presentation on how the orbital position is growing, with more broadcasters coming onboard and MBC holding the exclusive rights for transmission of Saudi Football League matches. He said there are more than 170 channels in HD on Arabsat satellites, and he only sees that number growing in the coming years. He also explained that because of the growing number of exclusive channels on 26-degrees East, 78% of households across the GCC have their dishes turned to this position.
Vidya Subramanian Nath, Research Director at Frost & Sullivan gave an interesting presentation. It offered insights into MENA TV viewing habits. For instance, there are 66m TV households in the region and 62% of these households have HDTV sets. Furthermore 77% TV viewing is through satellite, and only 11% of viewers subscribe to Pay-TV services.
Another presentation by Elie Aoun, CEO Middle East, Africa and Pakistan (MEAP), Ipsos Connect revealed some amazing numbers on advertising expenditure in the MENA region.
The total offline media spend in 2016 was $21.2b, and for this year figures till August stood at $14.2b.
The sector that invested the most in advertising on TV was the beauty and hygeine sector, making up 13.2% of revenue. This was followed by foodstuff and leisure at 11.7% and 10.1% respectively.
The forum also featured a host of panel discussions, including one on why customers prefer 26-degrees East, the outlook and opportunities for broadcasting in the MENA, various broadcasting technologies and how they can benefit broadcasters, and lastly the effect of digital disruptors on traditional broadcasting.
Arabsat has always provided access to strong technical support and has a firm drive to back anti-piracy measures.
When MyHD came to Arabsat, it was the first pay-TV service to launch at 26-degrees East. Since then, more have joined. A lot of Arabsat customers had much to say about why they chose 26-degrees East and stuck to it.
Samir Safer, CEO of MyHD, said: “When you decide to launch a new pay-TV platform, you try to find strong partners. Now most channels want HD-quality content streamed. Arabsat has been a great partner for bringing HD to the region. We have a reach in 22 countries for our low-cost pay-TV platform. Arabsat has an upgraded fleet with new satellites.
“The aim for us was to have customers have a small dish antenna and get HD channels at a low cost. After five years, we have grown significantly in this position. We needed to get good content, and then adoption was imminent. We also started with different packages for different regions. We started MyArab for GCC countries, and we launched different packages for Indians and Filipinos living in the region too. We also launched a new package for Maghreb.”
During the last Atheer in Marrakech, people were talking about MBC moving towards the Badr location at 26-degrees East, away from 7/8-degrees West. Part of the reason for this was to give advertisers a more targeted footprint to invest. This is because advertisers are not necessarily interested in the entire MENA, but are more inclined to advertise in a smaller geographical area.
Sam Barnett, CEO of MBC, said: “One of the things about moving satellites is that people thought we would lose audience on the way. We still have a good audience share and are still getting advertising. It has been difficult to say if advertising on spot beams has been successful. We are getting there, but it’s too early to say for now.”
David Couret, Director Technical Solutions – Distribution, France24, said: “Maghreb is becoming a big region for Arabsat, and this is a region where France24 also wanted to increase its presence. There are also a lot of good-quality entertainment channels on the hotspot. This is why we wanted to migrate onto the 26-degree position.”
In the case of BBC Arabic, the trigger was not advertising, but rather getting more concentrated eyeballs in the MENA region. Nigel Fry, Head of Distribution at BBC Global News, explained: “We produce content in 41 languages, and at the moment we are reaching 346m people worldwide. Of the viewers we have, there are 43m in the Arab world, so it’s a big market for us.”
“What is interesting is how dominant satellite is in this market, and we’ve seen in various markets the emergence of internet and the use of mobile devices as a way of people accessing content. From a traditional broadcast perspective, it’s quite reassuring to see satellite in such a strong position. Furthermore, the internet is only useful for those who can afford to use it. Satellite TV broadcasts reach further.”
On the technological front, at the 26-degrees East position Selevision has introduced a lot of new technologies in order to enrich the viewing experience. CEO Dr Raed Khusheim explained: “Satellite channels have been moving from analogue to DBV-S, and now we can see several channels in DVB-S2. Arabsat has been a great partner for us because we focus more on technology, and they have been facilitating a lot of bandwidth and knowledge.
“Soon we will be going forward with DVB-S2X and GSEU, which is generic streaming encapsulation. This is all apart from HEVC and 4K channels. The facilitation and the partnership we have with Arabsat is very important to us, and we can see this help with a dynamic and targeted advertising approach.
“There must be a collaboration with STB manufacturers, but the approach which we are working on with Arabsat is sat to IP. This is very important, for instance, in the hospitality industry, where they might have to receive signals through an encoder and then push those to a smart TV or a smartphone.”
The 26-degrees East hotspot is a healthy community with two different operators at the orbital position. This has made the position stronger, and more people have turned their dishes towards 26-degrees East because beIN Sports moved a lot of channels from 7/8-degrees West. A lot of broadcasters in the region supported this as a wise move at the time.
Balkheyour said: “We realised that sports channels and entertainment were the most attractive, whether they are pay-TV or FTA. This is why we moved them on 26-degrees. We were also keen for Es’hailSat to be on the 26-degrees East position. Es’hailSat has its own satellite with its own content, and the unfortunate political situation has not negatively affected existing channels.
“This is a concern I respect, but I don’t see any need for fear. They are two separate satellites at the same location, addressing the same audience. Our aim is to attract more channels to the region on Arabsat and serve the viewers in the region. As far as entertainment content, we have MBC on Arabsat as a whole bouquet, and we’re getting many more exclusive channels. We are also getting many exclusivity rights for sports broadcasts on Arabsat.
“The situation hasn’t really affected the broadcasters that are with us, and there is no need for them to be worried. We have contractual commitments with our clients, and we respect those, while we expect them to respect the content we agree on with intellectual rights and copyrights.”
Another core concern is piracy, a topic central to the success of television and a struggle, especially in this region. Arabsat and MBC have been working hard after forming the anti-piracy coalition to eradicate all forms of piracy on channels broadcast via satellite.
Barnett said: “Piracy on satellite can be a big issue. Within a couple of months, there were 75 channels with pirated sports and movies. This was content we paid for and was being played for free on satellite channels. One of the reasons we are so close to Arabsat is because we went to them and said we want to start a coalition to fight piracy, and asked if they would support us. It didn’t take even 30 seconds for them to say yes. Arabsat has fought with us against this scourge for the past five years. In the last few months, we have taken 45 pirate channels off the air from 7-degrees West. For the first time as an industry, we’re now clean.”
“Online piracy is something much bigger. This takes all the paid sports channels and streams them for free. This is not attacking just beIN but it attacks all of us, because it’s pushing people from satellite to online. There is a range of them. Every time we hit an unauthorised online portal we make satellite stronger, and this will help all of us.”
Arabsat has some Ka-band capacity at the 26-degrees location, and many don’t know it is used to reduce jamming and interference.
“When people hear about Ka-band, they think of broadband and high throughput, as well as being a smaller spot beam which is focused on a particular geographic location. However, when we planned for 26-degrees East, we thought in terms of protecting some of the channels from interference, and we built the option for Ka-band in Badr-5 and Badr-7.
“This allows the broadcaster to uplink on Ka-band, and downlink on MENA coverage using Ku-band. This protects the signal from jamming or interference on the uplink. This was our idea in protecting broadcasters from interference from different locations around the world,” concluded Balkheyour.