Irons in the fire

Digital Broadcast catches up with Mohamed Youssif, COO of Asia Broadcast Satellite
Asia Broadcast Satellite also provides playout services to broadcasters.
Asia Broadcast Satellite also provides playout services to broadcasters.

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Asia Broadcast Satellite is a company on a mission. With two satellite launches due this year and expansion rampant in almost every area of the business, Digital Broadcast Middle East caught up with Mohamed Youssif, chief operating officer, to find out how ABS is exploiting untapped niches of the Middle East satellite broadcast space.

Asia Broadcast Satellite’s home market of course is in the east, where its providing 200 channels to the entire Asian region with 300 cable operators using its services.

“We offer a total turnkey solution, short of selling set top boxes,” says Youssif. “In addition to our 200 DTH channels we offer complementary services from playout and encryption to uplink and cellular backhauling.”

In fact, in the Middle East and African markets 4G cellular backhauling is providing a majority of the company’s 30% year-on-year growth. “If you look at smart phone penetration in Africa, it’s still in single digits, but once that grows to double digits it will place huge demand on networks,” says Youssif. “In Africa the infrastructure is severely underdeveloped, so satellite will be the backbone of that growth.”

“The growth in the Middle East, Africa and other developing markets like South America is being driven by cellular backhauling, this is because they need a lot more bandwidth to cater to the different video platforms and video content that users are watching via mobile,” Youssif adds.

It is primarily for this reason that Asia Broadcast Satellite are investing hundreds of millions of dollars this year in launching two new satellites, ABS-2a and ABS-3a. At the time of writing, ABS-3a was preparing for launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, while ABS-2a was expected to be in orbit by mid-2015.

“These two new satellites will actually primarily be providing additional capacity over the Middle East and Africa to meet this expected surge in demand for not only broadcast services, but also cellular backhauling for 4G content,” says Youssif. Once they’re both launched, Asia Broadcast Satellite will cover four fifths of the world’s population, which has put the company in a strong position to exploit Middle East broadcasters’ desire to expand east.

“Southeast Asia is home to around 240-million Muslims, that’s a huge community of people for whom Middle East broadcasters are providing culturally relevant content,” says Youssif.

“So it makes sense for those channels that want to target these communities to be on our satellites, but in addition, for smaller Middle East broadcasters, who need more than a simple uplink, our playout and encryption services make it convenient and cost effective for them to target Asia.”

“Big broadcasters like Fox use our ABS-2 satellite over Asia,” says Youssif. “ABS-2 is at 75-degrees East so it’s basically targeting Asia and the Middle East, but isn’t very well-known for Middle East viewers. It has very good penetration in Asia though, with cable head ends to take the signal from those 200 channels that we broadcast via the satellite.”

In essence, Asia Broadcast Satellite is following a similar strategy to Yahlive when it focused on providing a
means for Middle East broadcasters to beam its content to Muslim communities in Central Asia. Asia Broadcast Satellite has several irons in the fire, however, because it is not only taking content out of the region.

“We’re also launching a DTH over MENA for Russian channels,” says Youssif, adding that it is the first time he’s mentioned the project to the media. “We’re currently testing the encryption and we should be launching this very soon, in the next few weeks. We have a Russian partner that’s providing 20 to 30 channels for the region.”

This is an extremely niche market that Asia Broadcast Satellite is exploiting. According to various estimates, there are around 55,000 Russian speakers living in the United Arab Emirates alone, with potentially double that amount in the wider Middle East. “What we’re trying to do in the Middle East broadcast industry is something that hasn’t really been done before,” says Youssif.

These focus areas alone are providing Asia Broadcast Satellite with the momentum needed to reach its goal of being in the top five satellite providers by the end of the decade, but they’re not the only irons in the fire.

“Another area of growth for Asia Broadcast satellite is the delivery of video content to planes for in-flight entertainment systems, because these services can only be delivered via satellite,” Youssif tells Digital Broadcast Middle East.

“So that’s a fast growing area for us because airlines are increasingly being required to provide live streaming of video content, which places huge demand on satellite infrastructure.”

It is no wonder then that Mohamed Youssif claims to be “very bullish” when it comes to the broadcast industry in the Middle East.

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