Keeping I.T. real

As the Middle East broadcast industry becomes increasingly reliant on digital technology, many of the region’s largest IT vendors are eyeing new opportunities in the sector.

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By  Patrick Elligett Published  February 14, 2009

As the Middle East broadcast industry becomes increasingly reliant on digital technology, many of the region’s largest IT vendors are eyeing new opportunities in the sector.

IT departments of the region's television broadcasters have been faced with a difficult task of late, working hard to select and implement new technology in order to ensure their content acquisition and transmission systems are future-proofed.

Due to the limited amount of satellite bandwidth available within the local market however, it is no secret that very few broadcasters in the MENA region are currently broadcasting in high definition (HD).

Nonetheless, this doesn't mean that the industry is not HD-ready. The implementation of new technologies has dominated IT departments right across the content delivery sector in recent years, and were more space available, many would be ready to make the switch to HD immediately.

The Middle East's content delivery glut has not put a halt to new technology in the industry however, but resulted in a shift in focus among many broadcasters, which have since begun implementing the latest in IPTV technology.

Since then, some of the region's - and indeed the world's - largest IT vendors have arrived in the media sector with a sudden focus on the now almost totally computerised industry through a series of acquisitions and a range of new HD or IPTV products.

One such IT company that has leaped headlong into the industry in recent years is Cisco Systems. The networking specialist was boosted by the 2006 acquisition of Scientific Atlanta, which specialises in IPTV and switched digital video systems for service providers.

Adrian Pickering, executive director of emerging markets for Cisco Systems, says the company is attempting to accommodate for new trends in the field of content delivery technology, with a focus on the evolution and distribution of datacentres.

"With the increase in digital content, broadcasters and telco service providers are looking to evolve and virtualise their datacentres. The most effective way of distributing content and utilising the network is not by having all content located in the same place - you really want to have distributed architecture because if you don't, you are not going to utilise your transport network as effectively as you otherwise could," he says.

"We are currently developing a platform that has the intelligence to anticipate viewer preferences and now that we are delivering entertainment over IPTV, we can take a much more detailed, granular approach to viewing habits," continues Pickering.

Allowing for increased monitoring of viewing trends is one of the major benefits of IPTV when compared to more traditional delivery methods. However, many broadcasters in the Middle East are still reluctant to embrace this new technology.

The same goes for the adoption of HD technology in the Middle East. While some broadcasters are technologically prepared for the inevitable shift, many others are still biding their time, until more satellite bandwidth space is made available.

Haitham Dargouth, head of technical and broadcast for CNBC, says the Middle East's content delivery industry is considerably lacking compared to the rest of the world in regard to the adoption of new technology.

"The Middle East is definitely behind in this area," says Dargouth. "The US and Europe have almost universally adopted new technology and are moving ahead with it but in the Middle East only a few channels are doing so. I don't think vendors are the main cause for this trend.

"For example, in Europe, the infrastructure is already there for broadcasters to move ahead with the technology, but we don't have that here. In our region, 99% of broadcasters are waiting for more satellite bandwidth to become available before they make the switch," he adds.

Dargouth does not believe the entry of some of the bigger IT vendors into the broadcast industry will dramatically alter the situation. He says that traditional broadcast technology vendors will continue to dominate the content delivery sector, while IT giants will be popular choices for extra tools on the periphery of the industry.

"These big IT companies may step in and take a portion of the market, but I don't think they will ever replace traditional broadcast technology manufacturers," comments Dargouth.

"The main thing that will help them to claim a big market share is simply having quality products and I doubt that companies new to the field could replace those that have been working with the industry for 30 or more years. These companies will always provide helpful tools but I don't think they will ever create products that will become a major part of the broadcast machine," he continues.

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