x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sales flat for HD service

Etisalat's cable television unit has signed up fewer than 1,000 customers for high-definition (HD) television since launching the service almost nine months ago.

Many UAE residents do not know if their TV is HD-ready.
Many UAE residents do not know if their TV is HD-ready.

Etisalat's cable television unit has signed up fewer than 1,000 customers for high-definition (HD) television since launching the service almost nine months ago. Humaid Rashid Sahoo, the chief executive of E-Vision, conceded the company needed to do more to publicise the service, and pledged to increase the number of HD channels to 20 by the end of the year from the current nine.

"The [HD service] penetration in the UAE is very high but people do not know if they have a HD-ready television or a regular LCD screen," Mr Sahoo said. When E-Vision launched its HD service in July, it was viewed as a significant step for the country's HD and pay-TV markets. The country's television offerings have traditionally lagged years behind those of more developed markets, mainly because of the dominance of free-to-air satellite television.

E-Vision is available only in the UAE, with coverage of about 60 per cent of the country. The company's basic cable service had about 1 million viewers, Mr Sahoo said, but he declined to specify how many of those were subscribers. Although E-Vision offers HD programming from Abu Dhabi TV, Luxe and Al Jazeera Sports, potential new customers may be deterred by the Dh999 (US$272) cost of a set-top box.

"We did not really push [HD] that much on our side because we're looking to get the bulk of new [set-] top boxes," Mr Sahoo said. New set-top boxes released this month will allow customers to upload content from USB drives as well as purchase on-demand programming. "Our future will be through these boxes," Mr Sahoo said. "All the new programmes and applications we will offer will be through this service."

The company also aimed to expand internationally into markets where Etisalat, its parent company, was present, Mr Sahoo said. E-Vision was negotiating with Etisalat subsidiaries in Saudi Arabia and Egypt to provide television services later this year, he said. "The television market is different from the mobile market. For example, the market between Saudi Arabia and UAE is so particular with pricing and strategy, so we have to study the market."

He said he was still negotiating with Al Jazeera Sports over the rights to air the FIFA World Cup this summer. While talks between the two companies have dragged on for several months, Mr Sahoo said he was confident of striking a deal in time for the lucrative tournament. "We're in discussions, but they're our partners, so it's no problem," he said. "This is not an issue, but you need to agree [on a deal]."

dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae