Cusp of Change
One of the interesting aspects about the Middle East communications market was the role satellite played as significant political events unfolded last year. The demand for media and the need to be connected was brought into sharp focus in 2011, as political and civil unrest caused some of the world’s most powerful news stories. Satellite players had to adapt quickly. Looking back on this, Balkheyour says, “Enormous capacities on our fleet were dedicated to securing the delivery of the news and live events from the many theaters to the viewers. This was also the opportunity for us to prove our commitment to the highest level of broadcast quality we seek to have all across our fleet. We were able, through extensive technical assessment, to pinpoint details of sources of jamming that were targeting a number of news channels widely watched in the region. We also support our customers by providing back-up capacity and other technical solutions to minimize intentional jamming in the future.”
Nilesat, which is based in Egypt where a change in government was brought about, also saw activity here. Hamza says, “Nilesat is a regional satellite operator and a private investment company, so the political problems in Egypt did not affect its activity. During the Arab revolution we suffered from intentional interference on our satellites; for instance, interference was coming from the former regimes against certain news channels and from opposing parties to the regime.”
The region is on the cusp of change, which in some ways could mirror what is going on politically. Operators with deep pockets are launching satellites, but with the HD market still in its infancy, and a market yet to be established for broadband via satellite, there are as many questions as answers. “It is implementation that is going to be a big thing. So, one of the questions will be, will someone be able to establish a new FTA video slot? Will someone be able to establish pay-TV services beyond OSN? Will HD services really see strong take-up? Will Ka-band be warmly received and see high-demand in the region. I don’t necessarily see new trends, but more implementation of the trends that have developed in the last year or two,” says French.
Balkheyour expects new business models could emerge in the region. He adds, “Definitely the introduction of new technologies including Ka-band and HD could enable new business models and fundamentally change the relation among satellite operators, broadcasters and telecom services providers. However, the satellite industry has proven over the years to be of the most resilience and adaption, and it will continue to serve the needs of many segments for many years to come.”
The Multimedia Exchange Network Over Satellite (MENOS) was initiated by Arabsat and Newtec to aid certain broadcasters, such as news broadcasters, to effectively transmit and exchange multimedia content. MENOS was officially launched in 2009. Simon Pryor, Newtec’s product marketing director, outlined which direction the MENOS project will take as it enters its third year. “One of our focus areas is newsgathering. We now have a product range to allow newsgatherers to support both live- and file-based news workflow up to 1 Mbps at a low usage cost. They can send their stories back to newsrooms. The deployment of the fast newsgathering service is one of the major challenges for us in 2012,” he says.
Other developments include helping broadcasters with workflow management. Pryor adds, “Another big focus this year is the expansion of file-based workflow support. MENOS has always had IP file-based capability, but will now support integrated managed file-based workflows, and all the associate metadata. It is something that the broadcast industry is struggling to manage as they introduce these file-based workflows into their contribution networks. Our goal is to provide this capability in a way that suits the market needs being easy to use and cost-effective to deploy.”
Pryor believes the MENOS project has struck a chord with broadcasters. “The new Arabsat satellite (5C) has given the Arab States Broadcasting Union (ASBU) extra capacity allowing them to deploy HD services in addition to SD,” he says. “The extra bandwidth supports more concurrent users, demonstrated by the traction with broadcasters like Al Jazeera. Iraq now has a virtual network on the MENOS platform to be able to improve their national contribution and exchange of content. The extra capacity allows the ASBU to support such a growing network.”