YahLive, the satellite broadcasting portion of Abu Dhabi-based YahSat that is managed by SES, is close to signing up its first all-HDTV capacity bookings. While commercial terms have not been revealed, it is understood that the first transponder rentals will go to channels from Abu Dhabi TV.
SES admits it is an ambitious “even audacious” programme, in setting the broadcasting bar as high as 8 Mb/s minimum. YahLive is addressing 77 million potential households in the pan-Arab region, and more than 10 million of which have HDTV-ready TV sets, and growing at two million new sets a year. YahLive will broadcast in MPEG4/DVB-S2 transmissions.
Mohamed Youssif, YahLive’s CEO, stresses that his overall marketing strategy hasn’t changed: “We want to stay as a 100 per cent HDTV satellite. We will be using the Abu Dhabi Film Festival as our launch event because we will have a large media presence in Abu Dhabi. We have signed contracts with Abu Dhabi Sports for five HDTV channels, and Abu Dhabi TV will also place their channels onto the satellite taking the total to seven channels. We are also in advanced conversations with many other channels, including the market leader MBC, to come onto the satellite. I am very optimistic, and MBC is wholly commercial so they want the right formula to make a deal.”
Youssif says they have an active transponder now operating testing a few channels, one of which is an upscaled SD channel, boosted to 12 Mb/s, “which looks terrific” adds Youssif. He believes that by offering appealing leasing terms to broadcasters, and guaranteeing them a high bitrate for their HD signals, then their orders will follow. “We will not transmit anything less than 8 Mb/s. Video qualities here [in the Middle East] are not good, and sometimes not helped by StatMux fluctuations. We are setting ourselves apart from this, and trying to set up an exclusive club of quality-focussed HD channels.”
YahLive is waiting for the UAE’s Etisalat to finish work on its direct-to-satellite uplinking from the Emirates, and thus by-passing the need to use signals inherited from ArabSat or Nilesat. Youssif believes that these direct, high bitrate signals will be recognised by the market for their quality. Youssif says a signed contract is in place with ‘Du’ (the Emirates’ second telco, which operates the Dubai Earth Station) in readiness for direct uplinking of Dubai-based channels.
“I think we have a very good chance of being more than a couple of dozen channels on air by the end of the year,” he says. “We recognise that just a handful of channels is not good enough. We need a neighbourhood, and we’ll get there. YahLive will be in a very good position in a few months. Remember, people don’t know what they’re missing until they see the alternative. We are that alternative.”
However, the market remains ultra-cautious, not least because of capacity on ArabSat and Nilesat. While Radi Alkhas of Jordan Media City (JMC) says they have completed their negotiations with YahLive and JMC will build a dedicated uplink once the YahLive contract is signed. Other gossip at IBC suggested that the terms on offer by YahLive were initially for a generous free period, followed by a long-term capacity lease. Those terms, say sources, have softened with terms now on offer being for a ‘no obligation’ period that could be terminated at the end of a year.