The ninth edition of Atheer, Arabsat’s annual customer forum in Salalah Oman, on October 3-4, 2017, began with a welcome address by Khalid Balkheyour, President and CEO, Arabsat.
In the presence of Omani ministers and dignitaries, he recounted the various achievements of the satellite operator in recent years and outlined the path forward. From Hellas Sat 3 delivering DTH to the large Arab diaspora in Europe to the new technologies at 44.5 deg East that includes satellite services on board aircraft, Balkheyour’s speech provided an overview of the satellite operator’s range of projects.
Commenting on the vision forward, he stated: “We are aiming to make 26 deg East the best destination for the Arab viewer.” He highlighted the important battle against piracy in the region and the critical need to partner with broadcasters. In conclusion, he spoke of the new structure for customer service and the social media platforms established by Arabsat to enhance their understanding of the customer.
Among the dignitaries who spoke, Her Excellency Dr. Haifa Abu Ghazaleh, Under Secretary-General, Head of Media & Communication Sector, League of Arab States, lauded Arabsat’s success and emphasised the need for closer collaboration between various stakeholders in the region.
Wael Al Buti, VP and CCO, Arabsat, illustrated the satellite operator’s penetration in the region and its ambitions for the future. “We are now carrying 40-plus Arabic FTA channels over Africa and we aim to be the provider of the largest bouquet of channels to the continent.”
With a whopping 78% of homes in the GCC receiving satellite TV from 26 deg East, Wael highlighted the acquisition of exclusive rights to the popular Saudi football league as a major milestone.
A research-based presentation by Vidya Subramanian Nath, Research Director at Frost and Sullivan, said that MENA has been slower to adopt 4K technology than the global average. However the sale of 4K TV sets is expected to exceed three million in 2017 from 200,000 sets in 2014, with the UAE emerging as the biggest consumer.
Commenting on the challenges faced by the industry in the MENA region, Nath highlighted falling oil prices, falling advertising revenues, and a diverse audience demographic that is changing its viewing habits, among other reasons.
A panel discussion followed on what drives a broadcaster’s choice, with specific reference to 26 deg East, offered some interesting insights into a broadcaster’s decision-making process.
Samir Safer CEO, MyHD, cited reasons such as the need for HD, a strong beam that calls for low-cost antennae and customised solutions for expatriate populations such as the Filipinos, among the reasons for opting for 26 deg East.
With his characteristic candour, Sam Barnett, CEO, MBC, admitted that getting people to shift from a wide beam to a spot beam as at 26 deg East, and all the fiddling that it takes with the antenna, was a terrifying proposition “but it worked going by the response of advertisers and viewers”.
Nigel Fry, Head of Distribution, BBC Global News, highlighted the ubiquitous nature of satellite TV in the region and Selevision’s CEO, Dr. Raed Khushaim, spoke of working with Arabsat on Sat to IP initiatives.
On the issue of protecting channels, Arabsat’s Khalid Balkheyour spoke of the launch of the Ka band specifically to protect channels from jamming and interference.
The tone of the final session on ‘Broadcasting in MENA/outlook and opportunities’ was set by Sarah Messer MENAP Director, Neilsen. Stressing the need for a transparent and reliable audience measurement system, Messer stated: “The audience should be in the middle of every decision. With an increasing trend towards one-to-one broadcasting, channel operators need to know their audience and be nimble to respond quickly.” She concluded by saying that the industry is sitting on a minefield of information with reference to their audiences and that traditional data has to merge with current real-time data going forward.
The need for audience measurement was echoed by Jacques Bajon of iDate and Dr. Riyadh Najm, a media expert, stated: “If we don’t measure audience, how do we plan programming?”
The day ended with moderator Chris Forrester posing the question as to what the industry believes will happen in three years.
While Dr. Najm believes the audience will look for viewing experience whether HD or 4k, Giorgio Giacomini, Managing Director, Globecast, believes three years is too brief a period for extensive deployment of 4k, though sports and gaming will push the resolution. Robert Lakos, Founder, Deleel, believes or hopes that the $7 set-top boxes would run 3g modems offering the broadcaster, audience feedback, that is “something better than nothing which in turn, would go a long way in helping build business plans”.
The evening ended with a gala dinner set to scintillating live Omani music.