E-Vision, the UAE?s longest-serving TV player claimed a first in the region when it launched a pay-per-view service back in 2002. Since then, it has forged ahead by providing IPTV, video on demand and 3D services to its customers. CEO Humaid Sahoo Al Suwaidi speaks to George Bevir about what?s next for E-Vision.
At the start of June 2010, the UAE’s two TV and telecom firms went head-to-head with the launch of their 3D TV services, with Etisalat and Du both announcing on the same day that they would be the first in the region to offer 3D TV to their customers. While Du decided to launch one channel covering fashion, art, travel, sport and lifestyle genres, rival Etisalat plumped for sport, with coverage of last months FIFA World Cup providing the telco’s cable TV subsidiary E-Vision with the opportunity to introduce 3D TV to its subscribers.
Humaid Sahoo Al Suwaidi, E-Vision CEO, says viewers’ experiences of the tournament are likely to be a determining factor in the adoption of 3D TV in the country. So far, he says, the reaction has been mixed.
“Some of the viewers were really happy, while some thought that it wont take off,” Sahoo says.
Beyond the World Cup, the big issue is the availability of content, and just as E-Vision looked to football for the launch of 3D, Al Suwaidi believes more 3D football coverage could help to boost interest in the service.
“During the next few months, we will look at what 3D content is available,” he says.
“I hope the EPL (English Premier League) will be shown on 3D at least in the next season if not the coming one, but we have not had any confirmation on that front yet. Additionally, we do not have a continuous stream of 3D content yet. There are only a few attractions such as Alice in Wonderland and Avatar. Over the next three to six months, we expect to see more 3D content but not enough to generate consistent viewer interest.”
But even if 3D content hasn’t picked up yet, High Definition has become a given in the world of sport and E-vision is well prepared this time.
Following an agreement with ADMC, all televised matches of the next season of England’s top tier of football will be broadcast in high definition for instance.
Pick and choose
When Al Suwaidi lists his priorities for the next six months, a theme that runs through them is greater flexibility for customers, as the shift away from viewing TV in a linear fashion continues. An example of this is a more advanced version of E-Vision’s electronic programme guide (EPG) that is due to launch “in a few months”. While some elements of this will depend on the channel provider, the E-Vision boss says it could provide information up to two weeks in advance, and when it is linked to a personal video recorded (PVR), viewers will effectively be able to create their own TV channels.
E-Vision claimed a regional first back in 2002 when it launched a pay-per-view service, giving customers the chance to pay to watch premium Arabic, English and Hindi movies.
Since then, Du has pushed ahead of E-Vision with the launch of a video on demand (VoD) service at the end of last year. But E-Vision is set to catch up with its rival with the imminent launch of its own VoD service, which is currently being trialled by 1000 pre-selected E-Vision subscribers.
“We have signed deals with two Hollywood studios and we will cater to Arabic, English and Hindi content viewers,” says Al Suwaidi.
“We want it to be in a strong position when it launches and it was not really the right time during the World Cup – it is likely to be rolled out to all customers during the summer,” he says.
At the moment, E-Vision is available to UAE residents who live in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and Al Ain, but the aim is to provide a service that covers the length and breadth of the UAE. Etisalat’s fibre to the home project, which is set to connect all homes in the UAE to a fibre optic network by 2011, will provide the means to reach the currently unconnected parts of the country.
“[Fibre] has high bandwidth, and all the services that you expect to turn TV into a more interactive experience. By the end of this year, Abu Dhabi will be the first city with all homes connected to fibre, and by the end of next year, the whole of the UAE will be connected.”
With part of its fibre network already in place, Etisalat can offer customers combined packages of internet, fixed line and E-Vision TV (triple play), which it is doing under the ‘E-Life’ banner.
“People will choose whether or not they want E-Vision or E-Life,” says Al Suwaidi. “Some people will take the standalone TV service; it will be a customer choice, but we will push both services.”
“Choice” is a word that has dominated coverage of the UAE telecom sector recently, following an announcement last month by the country’s regulator that Etisalat and Du will share fixed infrastructure.
At present, Etisalat has sole access to the majority of homes in the UAE, while Du serves pockets of new developments in Dubai. Under the sharing agreement, both firms will be able to provide voice, internet, data and TV services across each other’s copper and fibre networks. Customers should benefit from the increased competition, but Al Suwaidi waives any suggestion that it is a cause of concern for Etisalat.
“We have been in competition for the last ten years with other TV operators, and it will be good to have another one, he says, adding that he is confident that E-Vision will continue to differentiate its products and services, primarily through convenience and reliability. “
“E-Vision is a single source for multiple entertainments; on one day, a customer might want to watch OSN and the next day, they might want to watch something else, and they can change what they want to watch with one phone call. We also strive to make sure the variety of content suits the demographic. And we are careful to set prices at an affordable level, from basic packages to premium. The E-Life triple play offering is also important, and we have a single installation team and it also comes with a reduction in cost. “
“Another factor is reliability; we have invested heavily in the network itself. We have a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week maintenance and call centre staffed by people who can speak multiple languages.”