This past weekend has seen Middle East broadcasting giant MBC add a large cluster of 7 free-to-view HDTV channels to viewers of its Nilesat signals. Viewers have to buy an MPEG4-equipped set-top box from Technosat. Orbit Showtime, a local pay-TV supplier, is also transmitting HDTV, as are some sports broadcasters.
In total Nilesat is now carrying 33 HD channels. Besides its flagship MBC channel, the bouquet now includes MBC2, MBC4, MBC Action, MBC Max, news channel Al Arabiya and MBC Drama. With Cairo-based Dream TV also in free HD, there is now a real chance that HD viewing could break out of its pay-TV constraints and move into the mass market. In terms of pay-TV, Orbit Showtime is carrying 12 HDchannels while Abu Dhabi is showing 11 channels and Al Jazeera Sports has two on air.
Mohammad Shakir, business development manager of Technosat told local press that currently most channels on Nilesat are still broadcast in MPEG-2 SD format, and as MBC moves to MPEG-4 HD, most of the channels will follow. “In effect, this is the first time when the Middle East’s largest broadcaster MBC Group has decided to launch their HD channels for free through Technosat’s HD decoder being available exclusively on the ICHD platform — the first HD platform in the region for their viewers,” Shakir said.