The second Middle East Broadcasting summit in Dubai attracted a mix of regional and international industry executives who discussed issues ranging from legal rights and advertising, to satellite bandwidth and IPTV. Digital Studio looks at some of the highlights.
Ten of the 23 scheduled speeches and discussions included matters related to new media in their titles. Of the other 13, practically all mentioned it at some stage.
Sam Barnett, COO of Saudi-owned and Dubai-based MBC Group, confirmed that they were experimenting with mobile TV in both long format and through shorter clips. MBC has seen its mobile related profits doubling in the last three years. The group will be focusing on subscription services rather than a bit-by-bit payment policy in order to better secure revenue, Barnett said.
He also revealed that MBC is taking a relaxed approach to IPTV describing it as "low reach". He did concede, however, that it would take action should the platform take off in the region.
Russel Merryman, editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera International (AJI) web and new media, described the benefits AJI has received from its deal with video web-hosting giant, YouTube. AJI uploads an unlimited amount of content on a dedicated YouTube channel and receives a share of the advertising revenue. With uploading material effectively free, AJI has found a foolproof way to monetise its content online.
"People are reluctant to pay for news but are willing to pay for premium content like sports and movies," Merryman said.
This would justify the Qatar-based broadcaster's decision to pursue advertising revenue via YouTube, rather than subscription fees.
Although not the focus of any delegate's speech, piracy was mentioned as an issue by many.
Most vocal on the subject was Yousef Mugharbil, president of Rotana digital entertainment.
"Piracy laws are in place but are not being implemented whatsoever. For every US$1 we make, another $1 is lost due to piracy," he claimed. "There are 63 channels currently showing Rotana content, who cover our logo with black boxes. There are two Kuwaiti websites offering Rotana music content and registering 5 million downloads a day. We have pursued these but have discovered there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
This claim was countered by Samir Abdullhadi, president & CEO of Orbit Television who offered some words of encouragement, saying that prolonged lobbying of governments had delivered his organisation results against pirates in the past.
HD was another issue that was widely discussed and again, opinions were mixed.
Arabsat presented its plans for expansion. The company will launch a new satellite each year for the next four years. The first, a fourth generation satellite BADR-6, is scheduled for Q2 next year. Three fifth generation satellites will then follow.
"Our expansion strategy is being driven by several factors," commented president and CEO Khalid Balkheyour. "First, we plan to expand geographically to the south and east. We are looking to increase our replacement capacity. BADR-6 will also carry extra capacity which will be assigned for HD.
Balkheyour also quoted projected figures of 150 million HD viewers worldwide by 2011, with 40% of those receiving their signal through satellite.
Peter Hutton of TenSports pointed out the important contribution sports broadcasting had made to HD development so far, going as far as to say that sport was leading the advancement of HD technology.
The enthusiasm for HD was not all encompassing. Robert Drolet, senior vice president of technology and media with Kuwaiti-based holding company KIPCO, claimed that HD would have a far smaller role in the immediate future of broadcasting in the Middle East than most were predicting.
Marc-Antoine d'Halluin, CEO Showtime Arabia confirmed the importance of signature sports events. The pay TV operator has experienced a 30% jump in subscriptions since it gained the exclusive regional rights to the FA Premier League, according to d'Halluin. Its market share is up 5% to 38%. This figure sky rockets to 60% among male viewers during primetime.
The value of premium sports events was highlighted by several other speakers although it was sports broadcaster, Ten Sports, who offered the most insight.
Peter Hutton, vice president of Taj TV, the media company that owns Ten Sports, commented that the price of rights to premium sports competitions was likely to continue to increase. In order to improve one's chances of maintaining their rights without going bankrupt, Hutton stated that the best policy is to pursue ownership rights.
Sky television improved its position as the UK's exclusive Premier League rights owner by offering interactive options on camera angle, commentary as well as voting opportunities, he stated. Their ownership of the rights continues today although they have recently had to share the rights with a second broadcaster, as part of EU intervention on anti-competition grounds.