satellite projects are breaking new ground
in the Middle East. Egypt needed to find an effective medium for transmissions
that reach all parts of the country and the Arab region as well, with minimum
expense. The Egyptian government wanted to take a piece of the satellite cake
by taking advantage of two of the most powerful venues for cultural products in
the region: Egyptian culture, which is the most dominant in the region, and the
Egyptian Arabic dialect, which is still by far the most well-known in the Arab
world. Nilesat was Egypt's solution to this challenge. Nilesat, the Egyptian government's
first satellite, was launched on April 28, 1998 and provides services in various
fields, especially in education, media and culture. The second satellite, Nilesat
102, launched this August, is to start new services that deal with webcasting
and datacasting. The third generation of Arabsat craft is also based on digital
technology and is providing additional transponders. Eutelsat has five "hotbird"
satellites, and a replacement has also been made for the failed Asiasat satellite.
This is in addition to other satellites that already exist and cover the region.
All satellite broadcasting
in the region started as free-to-air satellite television services. Satellite
broadcasting came first to the region on December 12, 1990, when the Egyptian
Satellite Channel started transmission. Nile TV International was the second Egyptian
satellite channel. It commenced experimental broadcasting in October 1993 in English
and French. The main objective of this network is to promote the image of Egypt
in Europe and to attract tourism. The specialized channels
of Egypt on Nilesat 101 (Nile News, Nile Culture, Nile Sports, Nile Children and
Nile Variety) are increasingly gaining position. The private sector is also establishing
a footprint in the region. Egypt's gigantic Media Production
City is now welcoming private and international production houses. A recent
change that marked the open policy that Egypt is adopting is documented by the
contract that was signed between Al-Jazeera and the Media Production City whereby
Al-Jazeera is given facilities to produce and to transmit without censorship.
One year after the introduction
of the Egyptian Satellite Channel, Saudi Arabia launched the Middle East Broadcasting
Center (MBC), which is a privately owned network. Saudi Arabia is the heart of
the Islamic world, and therefore religious programming has a special importance
in official Saudi television programming and dominates a good part of the broadcast
schedule of the national television channels.
In 1995, Qatar made initiatives
to introduce the first Arab all-news and public affairs satellite channel. The
Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel stunned Arab governments and audiences by showing
free-ranging political debates, including interactive debates with live phone-ins,
which formed a new forum of freedom of expression in the region. Al-Jazeera is
still leading the region in this direction and is gaining popularity every day.
In 1996 two Lebanese stations,
LBC and Future, developed satellite delivery to the Middle East. With their relaxed
and informal approach, and LBC's uninhibited game shows, these channels had an
instant impact on viewing patterns in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia.
The Middle East has four
competing digital television platforms: ART/1st Net, Orbit, Star Select, and Gulf
DTH/Showtime. ART developed from a single free-to-air analogue DTH channel to
a full service of many popular channels. In addition to transmission to the Middle
East on Arabsat 3A and Nilesat 101, the company also broadcast to Europe, North
America, South America, Asia, and Australia. ART recently launched the first Arab
Islamic satellite channel, Iqra. Orbit was founded by the Saudi al-Mawared Group
and includes both Arab and Western programming.
Kuwait found it essential
to start its own network after the Gulf War, and the Kuwaiti Space Network began
on December 8, 1991. Star TV from Hong Kong started on Asiasat in October 1991,
reaching audiences in Kuwait and other Gulf countries. One of the network's new
digital pay-TV platforms comes from Gulf DTH, which trades as Showtime, and is
backed with English-language programming by Viacom Inc. The new offering is co-financed
by Kuwait Investment Projects Co. (KIPCO) and is now operating on Nilesat.
The Jordanian Radio and
Television Corporation started broadcasting the Jordanian Arab Space Channel on
February 1, 1993, utilizing channel 24 on Arabsat 1-C, which blankets most of
the Arab world and Europe and has recently expanded to include transmission of
the service to Canada and the United States.
In the North African
countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, national television was put onto satellite.
The main reason for satellite transmission of the service was to develop bridges
to improve communication between expatriate labor in Europe and the home country.
North African countries have a different Arabic dialect that is not well understood
by the rest of the Arab nations, and this may be why their satellite services
mainly address North Africa.
The Gulf states were among
the first nations that utilized satellite broadcasting since they did not have
problems related to financing these projects. Bahrain and Qatar placed their main
channels on Arabsat for direct broadcast transmission to the Arab world. Dubai's
satellite channel was first to reach the United States, via Galaxy. At this point
in time, there are many wonderful projects that will play an important role in
promoting telematics and informatics in the region such as the development of
new specialized channels, such as the Dubai Business Channel and the Dubai Sports
Channel, as well as Dubai's Internet City.
At the forefront of the
information society in the region are two technologies that stand above the rest:
compressed digital satellite services and the Internet. There are serious moves
toward Internet distribution via Nilesat; Showtime is working hard to introduce
Internet services, as is Orbit. This will allow for a world where multicultural
exchange is not only imaginable, but is undeniable. The Arab world is no exception.
The communications revolution has fully arrived in the Middle East, causing dramatic
changes in Arab society in economic, social, and political domains. It is the
first time in the history of broadcasting in the region that audiences have the
luxury of selecting news from a menu of news networks such as CNN, MBC, Nile News,
ANN, BBC and Al-Jazeera.
The new platform of satellite
broadcasting is being formed. That platform is soon going to attract the middle
classes of the Middle East, audiences numbering in the millions. The management
of satellite channels can no longer ignore the competition for ratings and competition
for channels. This is excellent for access, as a plentiful supply of satellite
capacity should restrain entry costs and should keep down other barriers for private
broadcasting, as well as providing a superb setting for quality programs and programming
for all audiences in the region. In the final analysis, the picture of satellite
broadcasting in the Middle East looks very promising. TBS
Also in our three-part
coverage of the colloquium "Actors and New Stakes in the Euro-Arab Satellite
TBS Paris Correspondent Magdi Ghoneim of TV5 France, who served as seminar organizer,
reports on the event
"Does Satellite TV Pay in the Arab World Footprint? Exploring the Economic
Feasibility of Specialized and General Channels" by TBS Senior Editor
S. Abdallah Schleifer, a paper presented at the colloquium
"It is the first
time [Arab] audiences have had the luxury of selecting from a menu of news networks
such as CNN, MBC, Nile News, ANN, BBC and Al-Jazeera."