The MENA region has long been a unique broadcasting environment, with more than 1,100 free-to-air channels available, offering almost unlimited choice. They are primarily broadcast via satellite, by far the leading distribution platform here. This is reinforced in a study undertaken by Arabsat, one of the leading satellite operators in the Arab world, with a strong presence across the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
The MENA Satellite Penetration study, conducted in 2020 with research specialist IPSOS, shows that satellite continues to enjoy a 97% market share, despite the uptake of IPTV and streaming services. The majority of MENA TV viewers, who are young, are loyal to satellite TV and use streaming services to complement their on-demand viewing experience. The study also shows that satellite TV viewers are largely citizens (96%); the remaining 4% are split equally between Arabs and other nationalities.
Arabsat, founded in 1976, has periodically undertaken such surveys to get a clear understanding of the markets it operates in and to see how to better serve its customers and viewers.
“The main purpose of this study is to make sure we have the right offering of channels and services, maximising the benefits for our broadcast customers and partners, while at the same time continuously improving viewer experience and use value for the Arabsat TV audience,” says Badih Kanaan, Director Marketing, Arabsat.
“The study also provides business-relevant updates on the latest changes in market behaviour, viewer socio-demographics, viewing preference and TV household readiness for next-generation TV services. These data and facts are a valuable source for the strategic planning of our customers as well as for our own strategic initiatives, and we are glad to be able to share all those learnings and trends with our customers and partners in webinars and customer workshops.
“It was an interesting journey. A very challenging journey, especially with Covid-19. This research enables us to continuously offer enhanced products and services to our customers and partners. This time, however, the study had a broader scope and scale. Under the research expertise of IPSOS, the study included not just the 22 countries in the Arab region but also reached out to other Arab communities in Europe and Africa.
“Together with IPSOS, we explored all satellite TV aspects, including the potential of complementary or substitute technologies and other players in the market. We are very proud of this study, because it was perhaps the most comprehensive one we have conducted for Arabsat, and we are looking forward to sharing our findings with our customer base.”
According to the study, the vast majority of MENA viewers – almost 80% – are under 44 years old, and at least 45% are under 30, which illustrates the strong sustainable relevance of satellite TV in MENA.
The paucity of broadband in the region, except in the wealthier GCC countries, and satellite’s ability to reach remote parts of the Arab world where fibre and other infrastructure are minimal, means satellite remains the main mode of content distribution, entertainment and even internet access. As a result, operators have a powerful position, with Arabsat enjoying a large share of the pie in several Arab markets.
“Saudi Arabia is one of our key markets, and we are clearly leading there with access to 90% of the satellite TV households. Out of these, at least 9% or 523,000 homes watch Arabsat exclusively” – Laith Alani, Head of Product Sales – Broadcasting Services, Arabsat
Arabsat owns and operates seven satellites at three orbital positions, 20°, 26° and 30.5° East: Arabsat-5C (20°E), BADR4, BADR-5, BADR-6, BADR-7 (26°E), Arabsat-5A and Arabsat-6A (30.5°E). Coverage spans more than 100 countries, including the MENA, Europe and Central Asia, with more than 650 TV channels and 270 radio stations. Arabsat’s video ‘hotspot’ at 26°E alone caters to more than 288m MENA viewers, transmitting more than 50% of its TV channels in HD or 4K.
There is extra good news in the research for Arabsat – 77% of MENA homes are aware of the brand, and 58% have chosen it as their satellite provider. With 103m satellite TV homes in MENA, this means at least 60m of them use Arabsat’s TV services, whether exclusively or along with other TV services.
Three main factors are responsible for Arabsat’s success, according to the research: technical robustness, programme selection and family members’ choice.
In the GCC, 88% of homes use satellite services provided by Arabsat, with at least 7.6m homes getting their TV this way. There has also been great success in Saudi Arabia, where it is the first choice for more than 5.25m households.
Laith Alani, Head of Product Sales – Broadcasting Services, Arabsat, elaborates: “Saudi Arabia is one of our key markets, and we are clearly leading there with access to 90% of the satellite TV households. Out of these, at least 9% or 523,000 homes watch Arabsat exclusively. We are also further improving in other Gulf countries despite the increased offerings and initiatives from IPTV and OTT players, particularly in those fast flourishing countries, where the infrastructure developed in the new suburbs creates a fertile ground for such applications to thrive. Not only in Saudi Arabia, but overall, we have maintained our success in the GCC, where we enjoy 88% viewership. And thanks to the great support and loyalty of our customers, we have logged over 813,000 homes watching programmes exclusively via Arabsat satellites.”
One reason for Arabsat’s exceptional success is its strict adherence to the cultural sensitivities of the Arab world, making it the ‘family members’ choice’.
“The content we carry on our satellites is in perfect harmony with the values and traditions of the Arab world,” explains Sami Mobarah, Arabsat Product Marketing Manager. “Arabsat was one of the members who defined the Arab States Charter for Satellite TV. This charter is reflected in all Arabsat contracts, so our video hotspot is the safest for all families. We are also part of the Arab League, which makes us the first choice for governmental and national TVs in the region.”
“The main purpose 68 of this study is to make sure we have the right offering of channels and services, maximising the benefits for our broadcast customers and partners” – Badih Kanaan, Director Marketing, Arabsat
In the Levant region plus Iraq and Iran, 77% of homes have access to Arabsat, with 26.8m satellite TV homes choosing it as their preferred satellite TV service provider, the study shows. It has had a majority market share in Lebanon since January 2020, where it caters to 860,000 satellite TV homes and 78% viewership – 22% exclusively on Arabsat, which comes to 238,000 homes.
“No other operator in the region enjoys this exclusive market share, making Arabsat the leading regional satellite operator in Lebanon. This has also led to a positive impact on adjacent markets like Jordan, where viewership has increased by 11% just after the Lebanese channels shifted exclusively to Arabsat,” explains Alani.
Alani attributes the success in Lebanon to a strategy that concluded in December 2019, whereby it secured and migrated all of the top Lebanese channels to its satellite exclusively, causing a mass shift in viewership in the country.
“Particularly in the Levant, we did a survey before the shift of channels and another one after, and found that we’ve enjoyed at least 20% increase in Lebanon since the migration. More importantly, this shift has impacted adjacent markets like Jordan, where we enjoyed a 10% increase. We still believe that there will be larger differences if we conduct further measurement again. And this is quite a significant achievement, as we trust that the Lebanese content and channels are one of the top most-watched across MENA,” Alani explains.
Arabsat also leads in Iran’s broadcast space. The satellite operator has access to 97% of the Iranian TV market, which totals around 22.34m satellite-connected homes.
North African countries also have an impressive uptake of Arabsat channels, with 53% of satellite TV households signed up, meaning 10.1m TV homes, and Alani says Arabsat has prime position in some African markets – Algeria, Mauritania and Djibouti.
In the latter two especially, Arabsat caters to the majority of satellite-connected homes, with 98% of Djibouti and 91% of Mauritania having access. The operator serves 34% of 95,000 satellite homes exclusively in Djibouti, and 30% of 740,000 in Mauritania. In Algeria too, Arabsat has penetrated the market with 68% of satellite homes, which amounts to 4.8m households.
“In this study, we found that Arabsat’s overall position increased by at least 30% since the last time we did a large-scale measurement like this one, which was around five years ago,” explains Alani. “We have seen tremendous increase in some markets over others. Thankfully, we have no declines and although we are satisfied with this growth, we are looking forward to new ways to grow in the future.”
The study also reveals that the most-watched languages for TV viewing, besides Arabic and local languages, are English, French and Turkish.
“Such information is very valuable for our customers targeting specific audience groups,” explains Alani. “We also have Urdu and Hindi, which is expected because of the content being broadcast over satellites as well as the larger community from India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia countries residing here in this part of MENA.”
One other important factor is the significant uptake of HD in the market. Arabsat currently carries more than 230 HD channels. At least 50% of TV channels on its 26°E orbital location are in HD or 4K. Badih Kanaan says the strategy during the last five years has been to attract the most-watched channels – where possible, exclusively in HD.
“77% of TV sets in the MENA region are flatscreen. 56% of TV sets in the MENA region are in HD format. Additionally, 6% of TV sets in the region are in 4K format while at least 40% of homes have smart TVs.”
While the Gulf region has a very high uptake of HD set-top boxes (75%), at least 56% of MENA viewers have HD receivers and at least 21% have replaced their receivers in the last year. This impressive growth has led HD to become a mass market service, with satellite leading and seamlessly enabling the best picture quality across the whole region.
Sami Mobarah says penetration will further accelerate as HD receivers and television sets become more affordable.
“The main factors that influence the uptake of new technology within a market would be the availability of exclusive content, the availability of HD TVs and availability of HD receivers. Not all of our clients can afford HD transmission yet, but we have introduced initiatives to encourage broadcasters to upgrade their content by providing them attractive pricing models or supporting them with equipment to encourage HD broadcasting. Also, Arabsat signed a partnership with leading broadcasters such as MBC and Rotana to broadcast their channels exclusively on HD format, and this helped increase the consumer demand for HD receivers.
“After HD, UHD will be the next technology to bring an even further enhanced viewing experience to MENA. In support of this, we are closely working together with our customers and partners to align technology, provide expertise, build most efficient distribution workflows and processes, and calibrate business models, making them most suitable for the uptake of UHD in the future.”
“The content we carry on our satellites is in perfect harmony with the values and traditions of the Arab world” – Sami Mobarah, Product Marketing Manager, Arabsat
Kanaan adds that Arabsat has already “put in place a clear strategy for our upcoming satellites and the replacement of existing satellites”.
“We recently signed a contract for the new BADR-8 satellite, which will bring new high-performance growth capacity to the market, especially in the broadcasting segment. We have other plans as well to enhance the products and services we are bringing to the market.”
Kanaan adds: “In many regions and countries, our satellite fleet is also already used to enable seamless deployment and growth of internet connectivity and IP-centric file, data and content delivery. We are studying the market, exploring new technologies and new trends, and we are confident we will have a new portfolio of very attractive and future-ready services for our clients and partners available at the right time.