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Update Lies, damned lies and Mid-East subs numbers! - 16-August-2009, 11:20

Lies, damned lies and Mid-East subs numbers!

Chris Forrester


Back in 2002 the then US Secretary of State for Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, made a now notorious speech at NATO about what he and his department knew (see below). He could almost have been talking about Middle East pay-TV numbers, such is the cloud of uncertainty that broadcasters surround themselves with.

Recently the normally well-informed Informa Telecom & Media issued their latest report on the Middle East and North Africa, suggesting that pay-TV in these regions would grow some 59% to an impressive 11m homes by 2014.

It stated that Turkey and Israel will remain the two dominant markets in the wider region, with DigiTurks numbers growing to 2.4m subs by 2011, and well ahead of what should then be the second-largest pay-TV platform, Arab Radio & Televisions 1.1m. Israeli pay-TV operator Hot should have 947,000 subs in 2014. The report suggests that the recent Showtime/Orbit merger will create the 4th-largest pay-TV operator in the region.

Up until now the pay TV sector in the region has, to a large extent, relied on heavyweight financial backers to prop up ineffective business models, Informa media research manager Adam Thomas said. This [Showtime - Orbit] deal provides a strong indication that those days are over and that the pay TV sector will now be run as a viable commercial business, he added.

Thomas is right, to a point. His report and forecasts are all well and good PROVIDED the base (current|) number is accurate. There is absolutely no doubt about the DigiTurk or Israeli numbers (although two years ago we would have said the same about Germanys Premiere numbers, subsequently found to have been over-stated by more than 1m). However, the Middle East region has also suffered this past year or so from negative growth, blamed by the broadcasters themselves on serious piracy. Smart-card sharing set-top boxes from Dreambox, and its imitators, are now widespread and leading to subscriber losses by at least two (and almost certainly all three) Arab pay-TV operators.

The concern over piracy in the region is one of the main reasons why ART is switching out of Irdeto and into France Telecoms Viaccess smart-card system. This represents a major investment by ART, but made all the more necessary by its wish to grow, into HDTV, into MPEG4-based transmission, and with the direct promise of sophisticated new services for legitimate pay-TV subscribers.

Orbit, meanwhile, has merged with Showtime and is now beaming 75 channels to its combined audience which is being seen by both platforms hundreds of thousands of viewers in the words of the projects CEO. Marc-Antoine dHalluin, unlike the former CEO and CFO at Germanys Premiere, doesnt have to worry about making over-inflated statements as to subscriber numbers (the Premiere pair faced criminal allegations because Premiere was a listed company on the German stock exchange), but by any measure Mr dHalluin should now take a leap and announce the combined companies true subscriber numbers (as should ART) so that the likes of Informa can then make accurate forecasts.

We at Rapid TV News can make our own educated guesses, of course, and will happily publish any statements that come with proof attached. Meanwhile, its all down to lies, damned lies, and Middle East subscription numbers or Rumsfelds known unknowns.

*The message is that there are no "knowns." There are thing we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that's basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.

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