MBC looks to HDTV, and pay-TV

Dubai-based MBC is planning to launch “scores” of HDTV channels over the Middle East. Working in partnership with the UAE’s Etisalat telco the plan is to launch HDTV to serve the public’s growing demand for HDTV channels.

MBC is the top-rated broadcaster in the region and reaches a claimed 106m viewers each day. Meanwhile, Etisalat, which dominates the cable and DSL supply of programming in the region, is looking to boost the number of HDTV channels on offer to more than 100 from today’s 23.

Sam Barnett, MBC’s COO/GM, says the broadcaster is preparing to launch a number of its 10 existing channels in HD format.”One thing that we are clear that we will do this year is to launch our HD bouquet,” said Barnett. “They will be the same channels, but just in HD.”  He did not specify a date for launch, or say which of MBC’s channels would first be available in HD.  Programming and adverts shown on the HD channels will be identical to their standard-definition counterparts.

Barnett said MBC itself would stay free-to-air. “However, when you’re broadcasting content from the studios it has to be encrypted. So you may need to go and get a box to see it, which will have the encryption on it. But once you’ve bought the box, we’ll be trying to make it free.”

Barnett added that MBC was in discussions with a number of distribution platforms, which could include satellite operators and telecommunications companies, over carrying the HD channels. “We will be non-exclusive. So we will be trying to put it on a variety of different platforms,” he said. “We want to make sure that as many people as possible can see our proposition.”

Existing local pay-TV operator Orbit Showtime already has an embryonic HDTV service up and running, and tomorrow (March 1st) will add ‘Action HDTV’, a movie channel, in high-def.

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