Free-to-Air Satellite TV Channels in the Arab World: The Growth in Supply Continues

Figure 1: FTA Satellite channels growth between January 2004 and May 2013 Note: The total number does not include the FTA channels that only broadcast in High Definition (HD).  Source: FTA channels, Arab Advisors Group Analysis

Figure 1: FTA Satellite channels growth between January 2004 and May 2013
Note: The total number does not include the FTA channels that only broadcast in High Definition (HD).
Source: FTA channels, Arab Advisors Group Analysis

The number of Free to Air (FTA) satellite channels targeting the Arab region continues to grow. Based on Arab Advisors Group research, by May 2013, the total number of unique FTA satellite channels reached 716 broadcasting on Arabsat, Nilesat, Noorsat and/or Yahlive. The number of the fully launched and operational channels, excluding channels in the test transmission phase, reached 658, up from 565 in March 2012. The FTA landscape had a major growth of 599 percent in the number of FTA satellite channels which broadcast in Standard Definition (SD) between January 2004 and May 2013: As shown in the graphic below, the number of FTA satellite channels which broadcast in SD totaled 699 channels by May 2013.

The majority of FTA satellite channels targeting the Arab World air on one or more of four satellites: Arabsat, Nilesat, Noorsat and Yahlive. Therefore, the Arab Advisors Group analyzed the FTA satellite channels that broadcast on the aforementioned satellites.

In addition to the four analyzed satellites, Eutelsat also airs a number of channels targeting the Arab World; however, the majority of these channels already broadcast on one or more of the four analyzed satellites. Noting that only 10 percent of the channels targeting the region air exclusively on satellite providers that use the platform of Eutelsat. These channels were grouped into 11 categories; 35.9 percent of the channels were religious channels, followed by general channels with a percentage of 20.5 percent. Some of these channels’ content violates the regulations of the Arab-owned satellite systems, such as adult interactive channels and political channels.

The satellite carriers’ analysis revealed that Nilesat hosts the highest number of FTA satellite channels with 424, 288 of which broadcast through the satellite operator exclusively. Noorsat comes second with a total of 160 FTA satellite channels followed by Arabsat, which carries a total of 118 FTA satellite channels. Yahlive came last, with 43 FTA satellite channels carried.

Broadcasting in High Definition (HD) is also becoming more common amongst satellite channels. Some of the FTA satellite channels (7.3 percent) that already broadcast in Standard Definition (SD) started to broadcast in HD as well. A small percentage (2.4 percent) of FTA satellite channels broadcast in HD only, while the majority (90.4 percent) of the analyzed FTA satellite channels broadcast in SD only.

Figure 2: Distribution of the FTA satellite channels according to their presence on each satellite carrier/s (May 2013) Note: The total does not include the 58 channels under Test Transmission  Source: FTA Channels, Arab Advisors Group Analysis

Figure 2: Distribution of the FTA satellite channels according to their presence on each satellite carrier/s (May 2013)
Note: The total does not include the 58 channels under Test Transmission
Source: FTA Channels, Arab Advisors Group Analysis

With the abundance of FTA satellite channels and the types of programs aired on each one, the Arab Advisors Group has adopted the following classifications to sort the 716 channels: Business/Financial, Children and Youth, Documentary, Educational, General-Private Sector, General-Government Sector, General-Mixed Ownership, Health, Nutrition and Cooking, Interactive, Movies and Series, Music, News and Current Affairs, Promotional, Religious, Specialized and Sport channels. General-Private Sector channels have the highest share of the total FTA satellite channels, followed by News and Current Affairs channels then General-Government channels.

The analyzed FTA satellite channels air in more than 30 languages, such as Arabic, English, French, Persian, Urdu and Kurdish. The majority (78.9 percent) of the fully launched and operational FTA satellite channels targeting the Arab World broadcast exclusively in Arabic.

Figure 3: FTA Satellite channels’ program types (May 2013) Source: FTA Channels, Arab Advisors Group Analysis

Figure 3: FTA Satellite channels’ program types (May 2013)
Source: FTA Channels, Arab Advisors Group Analysis

The countries of channels’ headquarters were also analyzed. The research revealed that 19.1 percent of the total 658 fully launched and operational FTA satellite channels on Arabsat, Nilesat, Noorsat and Yahlive are headquartered in Egypt, which is in line with Egypt being the “Arab Hollywood.” The UAE and Saudi Arabia followed with percentages of 13.8 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively.

In line with the liberalization of the audiovisual sector in the region, the number of private satellite channels exceeds the number of government-owned channels. Out of the total 658 fully operational channels, 76.6 percent were privately owned, while 22.8 percent of the channels were owned by the government. Only 0.6 percent channels have a mixed ownership.

Jawad Abbassi is the founder and general manager of Arab Advisors Group.

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