Scores of new high-definition (HD) channels, some of which will be free to view, are to be launched as MBC and Etisalat look to meet increasing consumer demand for better-quality TV images.
Several HD channels will be launched this year by MBC, which is the largest free-to-air broadcaster in the Mena region, with more than 106 million viewers each day.
The UAE telecoms company Etisalat plans to increase to 100 the number of HD channels it operates, citing high consumer demand for better TV images.
Sam Barnett, the chief operating officer and general manager of MBC, says the company 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 Mr 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. Programmes and adverts shown on the HD channels will be identical to their standard-definition counterparts.
Like the majority of MBC's channels, the HD equivalents will be free-to-air, although Mr Barnett said consumers may need to buy a dedicated set-top box to view them.
"We want to maintain our free-to-air model," he said. "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."
Mr Barnett said 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," Mr Barnett said.
While HD broadcasts are not common in the region's free-to-air TV space, several pay-TV operators have launched high-definition channels in recent years.
Orbit Showtime Network currently has more than 10 channels in high definition, and its chief executive, David Butorac, said the broadcaster would launch the channel OSN Action HD on Tuesday. OSN has "plans to launch even more channels throughout 2011", he said.
HD channels are also available via internet protocol TV (IPTV) platforms run by telecoms operators such as Etisalat and du.
Etisalat says it has 23 HD channels available on its IPTV network and will expand the number in response to consumer demand. "Due to our customers' experience and feedback, we are planning in the near future to increase the HD offerings up to 100 channels," said Humaid Rashid Sahoo, the chief executive of Etisalat's E-Vision division.