YahLive secured its first customer six months ago when it partnered with MBC Group to broadcast the networks HD bouquet to the Arab world. Last month, YahLive signed on its 44th channel and by the end of the year, it hopes to add a total of 50 channels to its roster. In an exclusive interview […]
YahLive secured its first customer six months ago when it partnered with MBC Group to broadcast the networks HD bouquet to the Arab world. Last month, YahLive signed on its 44th channel and by the end of the year, it hopes to add a total of 50 channels to its roster. In an exclusive interview with Vijaya Cherian, Mohamed Youssif, CEO of YahLive reveals three new deals the operator secured last month, and unveils the strategies it has devised to reach out to the Arab world
In August 2012, YahLive, the UAEs first and only satellite operator, signed deals with three more broadcast networks bringing the number of HD channels it now beams to 44, thus inching closer to the vision its CEO Mohamed Youssif announced in December 2011 of creating an exclusive High Definition hot spot for the Middle East. With a capacity to carry only 130 HD channels on its Yahsat-1A satellite located at 52.5° East, YahLive has been careful in its selection of clientele to ensure it offers a comprehensive content package that is entertaining but also, non controversial.
Prior to the London 2012 Olympics, YahLive secured a deal with GEM Group, a major Middle East TV network, to broadcast its GEM Sports TV channel in HD to the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) region in Arabic, English and Farsi. Last month, GEM Group went a step further by taking three transponders from YahLive to telecast its channels to Farsi-speaking audiences across the Middle East and the Subcontinent.
GEM TV is targeting Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and all of the Farsi-speaking audiences in the region in addition to the larger audiences across the Middle East with our East beam that provides coverage all the way from the Red Sea to Pakistan, explains Youssif.
One of YahLives key strategies is to steer clear of all controversy by being careful in its selection of channels.
We realise content is a sensitive issue so YahLive has been very selective about the channels we host. We get a lot of requests, but the channels we select do not carry content that is deemed controversial. It is a tight rope to walk but we have been successful in maintaining our neutrality.
That strategy has made YahLives bouquet more attractive to Saudi viewers as we can see from a landmark partnership that awaits signature as BroadcastPro Middle East goes to press. The deal is still to be inked although Saudi TVs channels can already be seen on the YahLive bouquet.
The partnership will mark a huge milestone for YahLive not merely from the point of view of heading closer to its vision of beaming 50 channels by the end of the year on its satellite, but for being able to enter the Saudi market in full HD and with the promise of offering a selection of TV channels that are in keeping with the Kingdoms fundamental cultural practices.
The Saudi market is undoubtedly one of the biggest in the region. That is one of the reasons we are looking to sign an agreement with Saudi TV. We previously broadcast the Saudi League over Europe in HD and the Quran channel also in HD. We are now looking to increase cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information to broadcast a set of six channels including Al Sunnah channel across the Middle East, adds Youssif.
In the meantime, YahLive has added Al Twazin, a popular family-oriented channel that was hitherto being broadcast on Nilesat in SD, to its bouquet.
This is an interesting deal given that the CEO of the channel was one of the people who helped start Yahsat, says Youssif.
They are in the process of upgrading to HD. In the meantime, we will be upscaling their SD signal until they have moved to native HD.
Youssif reiterates that YahLive will maintain its content strategy to continue remaining attractive to Arab viewers.
We are not aiming to have 700 to 800 channels. We are trying to select channels that target a wide selection of people with content that does not have extremist views. We are not just focusing on the quality of broadcast but the quality of content as well. Our shareholders have been supportive of our strategy. Even though we only started out in December 2011, we have 44 HD channels currently on the satellite. This, in itself, is an achievement.
YahLive also has several other unique selling propositions that distinguish it from other traditional players in the market.
For one, the orbital location of the Yahsat Y1-A satellite in 52.5 degrees East offers optimal line of sight for direct reception within the Gulf area. Besides this, YahLive offers a high-powered BSS capacity that is optimised for DTH (Direct to Home) solutions.
In addition, YahLive provides separate beams for Europe, the Middle East and the Gulf so broadcasters have the flexibility to choose specific geographical areas and avoid audience wastage in areas where their channels are not likely to be viewed.
Our channel partners can select Gulf-only beams or all of the Arabic speaking countries all the way to Morocco with the Middle East beam or alternatively select only the European beam. This choice we offer is unique and allows channels to broadcast only in areas where they have the rights to do so, as opposed to one beam that covers all areas, explains Youssif.
Another notable element is that YahLive allocates equal bandwidth to each channel irrespective of the content they carry. This ensures consistency in the quality of images, says Youssif.
Normally, if there are 10 channels that come into the input, operators use a statistical multiplexer to manage the bandwidth. This means if one channel features sports and a second channel telecasts news, the mux looks at which channel requires more bandwidth and allocates it accordingly in the above case, to sport. The quality of your picture, therefore, is hugely dependant on the neighbouring channel.
In the Middle East, channels have an average allocation of three to five megabits. We have dedicated eight megabits to each channel and are keen on maintaining the integrity and quality of that broadcast.
Now that YahLive has secured a substantial number of clients, it is looking to shift focus to the second phase of its strategy, which is convincing viewers to install dishes to watch the YahLive bouquet. The fact that YahLive has a more powerful beam that can be received with dishes as small as 45cms (in the Gulf) to 60cms (outside the Gulf) makes it an attractive proposition to viewers.
However, Youssifs team is presently up against recent government regulations in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah that have restricted the installation of satellite dishes to the rooftops of buildings.
To address that, YahLive is looking to undertake a country-wide roadshow shortly.
We will be approaching building owners to encourage them to add our dish to their rooftops as well so viewers can tune into YahLive. We are also in the process of initiating a roadshow where we invite installers and distributors in each area and tell them about the benefits of YahLive.
In addition, YahLive is also involved in running campaigns on Al Arabiya and MBC to educate viewers on the HD format.
A series of educational programmes is being run on Al Arabiya to clear the misconceptions people have regarding HDTV. People believe that they have to just install a dish to watch HDTV. Others believe if they have a flat screen, they are watching HD although they have SD receivers. We try to show them the entire chain from the transmission of an HD signal to receiving it on an HD receiver and watching it on a screen that supports the format and everything that goes in between, he adds.
YahLives partnership with SES also ensures that YahLive can have access to sufficient capacity to run an additional 50 HD channels should it run out of space.
In the meantime, recent news of the IPTV revolution and the alternative options it provides to satellite have not fazed Youssif.
IPTV is a niche market and will not replace satellite-based transmission. As more channels are added, the IP network will get congested, making it slower. Currently in Europe, ISPs are using hybrid receivers because the more channels they add, especially in HD, the slower the IP becomes. Big networks such as Orange deploy hybrid receivers so the viewer can receive linear TV through the satellite directly and enjoy the interactive features through IP.
With innovations such as 4K, 8K and ultra HD you need a minimum resolution of 33 megabits as opposed to the current requirement of 2 megabits how will you do that with IP? As peoples expectations grow, they will not be happy with the so-called HD transmission in 4 megabits. When people watch channels in 16 megabits or higher, they will appreciate the huge difference in viewing quality.
YahLive will have a strong presence at IBC 2012 along with its partner SES to showcase its offerings. No doubt, it has embarked on the challenging task of penetrating a crowded television marketplace but it also has some strong features that make it more appealing to the Arab marketplace.
In the meantime, it is also simultaneously looking at how to increase its capacity and expand its availability.
This is a process that takes time to build and it depends on the demand that you have. My present goal is to provide the best HD satellite offerings in the region. We can accommodate 130 HD channels and we shall bring the best of HD content together for the Arab world.