Panel: “Satellite good for 20 more years, at least”

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A recent Eutelsat-organised Webinar heard comments from Rotana’s COO Michael Cairns. Asked in simple terms how Rotana saw its immediate challenges, he said that they had launched two new channels during the Covid crises (for Kids and Comedy) and the broadcaster had also supplied many of its programmes to OTT platforms (such as Shahid, OSN and Netflix) available in the MENA region.

Earlier this week, Rotana placed almost all of its output onto MBC’s Shahid SVoD system.

Cairns said there was a reassuringly high uptake of Rotana output on the OTT platforms, especially movies. “We are delighted with progress and so are our partner platforms.”

Cairns was joined by a panel of Gulf experts, including Fares Akkad (Director Media Partnerships at Facebook), Hassan Chanine, CEO at Dubai-based Digital Media Space, Ghassan Murat, Eutelsat’s MD for the region, and the event moderated by yours truly, Chris Forrester.

They were reminded that it was some 30 years ago when the very first satellite signals were beamed (by a terrestrial tower in Bahrain) of the opening of the first Gulf War (August 1990). Asked how important satellite would be 20 years from now, and the panel were of one voice echoing that of Michael Cairns who said satellite would definitely still be extremely important. “It is simple. We want a satellite signal to reach a mass market in an economical way and satellite provides that. The build-out of [OTT-type] networks to match satellite simply won’t happen.”

Hassan Chanine, CEO at Dubai-based Digital Media Space, agreed saying he fully expected to still be viewing satellite TV 20 years from now. “It is the perfect point-to-multipoint system for our region.” He said that while some of the major cities might serve a cabled, 5G or IP-based audience, the rural and country areas would still need satellite. “There’s also the cost. Some might well want to pay for their TV but the vast bulk of our audiences want free-to-air TV entertainment and this will stay the case for a long, long time.”

Eutelsat’s MD for the Gulf region, Ghassan Murat, was highly optimistic as to the prospects for FTA in the Gulf, and beyond in the Arab world. “When we listen to our viewers we know they appreciate image quality and so we work with our broadcasting colleagues for higher bandwidth services including HDTV. We will also continue to improve services such as Sat.TV [which is a sophisticated EPG for FTA television]. At Eutelsat we also recognise that satellite can be a two-way system so with our Eutelsat Konnect service we see more broadband connectivity which will come to the region. There are regulatory hurdles but we will solve them.”

The panel of experts were also vocal in supporting the growth of 4K/Ultra High definition. They all agreed they wanted UHD signals to be available, and Cairns confirmed that almost all of Rotana’s high-end dramas and movies were shot on 4K equipment.


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