x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

HD rapidly filling satellite space

Demand for high-definition TV stations is forecast to strain the Arab world's satellite capacity.

There are around 600 free-to-air satellite-TV stations in the Arab world. Nicole Hill / The National
There are around 600 free-to-air satellite-TV stations in the Arab world. Nicole Hill / The National

The Arab television industry faces a shortage of satellite capacity because of the number of channels converting to high definition, warns a senior industry executive.

Most television viewers in the region receive signals via satellite, and many local stations are converting to high definition (HD) broadcasts.

If that trend continues, the existing and planned satellite capacity will be exhausted by 2017, forecasts Mohamed Youssif,the chief executive of the satellite broadcaster YahLive in Abu Dhabi.

"We won't have enough capacity - between all the satellite operators - to keep up with the demand of all broadcasters converting to HD," said Mr Youssif.

"I definitely expect that to happen … In five years, probably everybody will be HD."

There are about 600 free-to-air satellite-TV stations in the Arab world, and some have already converted to the better-quality HD format.

These signals require more than double the satellite bandwidth compared with regular standard definition (SD) stations.

"Satellites operators are [already] above 90 per cent utilisation with their current SD channels," said Mr Youssif.

YahLive, which beams television signals via a satellite owned by Abu Dhabi, is a relatively new entrant in the satellite television business.

The company is a partnership between the European satellite operator SES and Yahsat, a subsidiary of Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government.

Ali Ajouz, a media consultant based in the UAE, said that he broadly agreed with Mr Youssif's prediction that satellite capacity was running out.

"It's going to take about five to six years to see the increase in HD channels to the level where we're going to run out of capacity," said Mr Ajouz. "That could lead to an increase in price."

However, Mr Ajouz pointed out that some standard definition channels were also converting to MPEG-4 format, which requires less bandwidth than regular SD stations. That would free up some space for more HD stations, he said.

Regional broadcasters confirmed the increased demand for satellite capacity but said this was not a big concern for the industry.

"With the increase in the number of channels, both SD and HD, the demand looks set to continue," said David Butorac, the chief executive of the TV broadcaster OSN in Dubai.

"We hope and believe this pressure on capacity will ease in the future … The long-term view at present does not overly concern OSN," he added.

Other satellite companies downplayed fears that capacity could run out. Arabsat in Riyadh, which claims to be the region's largest satellite operator, has six satellites and plans to launch another in 2014.

"Our plans always take care of growth potential of the market," said an Arabsat spokesman.

"By the end of 2012, Arabsat will have more than 47 HD channels, an unprecedented number in the Middle East," the spokesman said. "Certainly this by its own demolishes the idea of not having space to expand in HD channels."

Eutelsat, a satellite provider based in Paris, said it was monitoring demand in the Arab market.

"We are analysing very closely what the high-definition requirements are going to be," said Vanessa O'Connor, the corporate communications director at Eutelsat.

Ms O'Connor said Eutelsat launched a satellite serving the region at the end of last year and planned another in conjunction with another operator next year.

The executives were speaking prior to Dubai's Cabsat media and satellite exhibition, which starts on Tuesday.

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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