The movie man

With broadband penetration still relatively low across the Middle East, IPTV and video on demand services are still in their infancy in the region. Former Motorola man Georges Dabaghi, now general manager for the Middle East at Seachange subsidiary On Demand, hopes that his new firm will benefit from the growing interest in the technology.

Tags: IPTVSeaChange InternationalUnited Arab Emirates
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The movie man
By  George Bevir Published  April 19, 2010 Communications Middle East & Africa Logo

Tell us about the company; what services does On Demand provide?

What On Demand does is brokerage the management, administration and preparation and service management on the platform of operators’ video and music content.

The main competence of On Demand is the ability to acquire these rights from the big studios in the US, the likes of Warner Brothers, Disney, Sony, Lionsgate and so on, in very large blocks and for bigger territories, obtaining wholesale content and then retailing it to many different operators.

What are the benefits for operators that choose to work with On Demand?

With the On Demand group, the content is neutral, so we can supply it on our own video on demand platform, or on anyone else’s. Seachange, as the mother company, combines both the capability of technology plus the knowledge of content and administration, so it is a one-stop shop for a full VoD solution. And with our experience, and with the capability of being first to market in places like the Middle East, as an emerging market, that experience and expertise is at a much optimised cost and very rich experience for others wanting to build their business cases.

What presence do you have in the Middle East? Who are you working with at the moment, and who do you hope to work with in the future?

We have just opened an office in Dubai, and since late December, we have been executing a contract with UAE operator Du to provide it with a fully-managed VoD offering.

Our target sector is all broadband operators in the region, and the subset of these operators that are thinking of IPTV and VoD as part of their IPTV services. We are looking at the three screen strategy; IPTV screens, mobile, and the internet. Any broadband operator in the region that is planning to do VoD services in one or many flavours will be a target of ours.

If you look at the subscriber demand and what subscribers will want to see, it is relatively uniform. Subscribers in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Qatar: you will find that the usage pattern is more or less uniform across the Arab world. The question now, is how ready are operators with infrastructure that can accommodate such solutions? You also have countries and operators that went much further in preparing infrastructure. For example, you look at Abu Dhabi, there will be a fibre city in the next one or two years with a tremendous amount of reach into people’s homes and that is not the case in many parts of the Arab world, where the broadband penetration is less than 5% today.

There is lots of room for growth but this is not going to happen overnight. So we will focus on areas where this penetration has happened, and where it didn’t we are working on a strategy to educate and work as a catalyst for operators wanting to increase it. We will provide a consultancy service to sit with them and show them the business case, look into the specifics of their business case and see how the operator can use it to make money.

What are the benefits for operators of launching IPTV and video on demand services?

IPTV can be described as simply TV over IP, but at the same time it is much more than that, because it allows interactivity; you are sending video and IP packets to a customer, and there is a return path which usually doesn’t happen – or is limited - over satellites. In contrast, with fibre-based broadband networks you have interactivity and the customer is in control and can demand what they want.

IPTV in many places in Europe and the US was not a money maker because the money wasn’t there taking linear TV and putting it on IP networks. They were using it to glue customers, to reduce churn or bundle it and up-sell to broadband data. With VoD you can make the business case for IPTV ROI positive, because you know what people want and you can gauge and better control the pricing and create a nice revenue stream.

The focus has shifted from talking about the technologies that carry broadband to how you are going to fill this capacity with something that the consumer will want to pay for. You want to have that bandwidth closely following the revenue stream following the consumption stream. The cost and revenue per bit have to run in parallel.

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