CEO, Gulf DTH/Showtime
EPGs, the Internet, MTV Mashaweer,
exclusive sports, and more movies than ever...Showtime is bringing a full range
of "value added" services and programs to its Middle East subscribers.
The expansion in talent and locations for MTV, meaning the new presenters from
Cario and Beirut for the Mashaweer program, should prove to be a great success,
and obviously another step in the Showtime strategy of Arabizing within the context
of Western style. Where do you go from here? When does the region get its Arab
Showtime focuses on providing the best in Western entertainment for an Arab audience.
That strategy extends from appropriately scheduling our channels for the Middle
Eastnot simply buying them from other regions of the world and beaming them
into providing Arabic subtitles, a bilingual TV guide, and producing 50
percent of our on-air trailers and promos in Arabic.
However, Showtime isn't
an Arabic broadcaster and we wouldn't want to compete with those broadcasters
who have a long tradition of producing excellent Arabic entertainment.
The development of Mashaweer
fit our philosophy which is, as you say, an Arabic program in a Western style.
It filled a gap in the range of Arabic programming by fusing Arabic music with
MTV style and production values.
Would we like to do more?
Absolutely. However, one has to consider the vast amount of good quality, free-to-air
Arabic programming from channels like LBC, Future, Nile TV and Al-Jazeera. Any
further Arabic programming produced by Showtime will have to be significantly
different in style and content to that which is already available.
The first year of Mashaweer
was a learning experience for us allproducers, presenters, and even the
audiencebut it is clear that we have succeeded in producing a radical Arabic
popular music show that has been very well received. The Search For A Star events
to find new presenters in Cairo and Beirut were fantastic successes. The response
from teenagers in both cities was remarkable and I think the fact that MTV Europe
VJ Kicki, who was found in a similar search in Sweden, presented each final selection
was an expression of faith from MTV in the product. The three new presentersLara
T, Lara M, and Dinaare already making an impact, giving Mashaweer an even
brighter, sassier edge. The Middle East is now on the MTV radar but we'll have
to wait for further developments.
Certainly the fact that
the region has a population of around 320 million, all sharing a common language,
culture and tradition, is always going to attract quality global broadcasters
who can produce content appropriate for the local market.
TBS: You've closed
the programming gap with the recent addition of the Abu Dhabi Sports channel and
CNN about a year ago. You now have the complete package. How did you get Abu Dhabi
Sportswhich had been free-to-air on Nilesat, then went off, and is now back
as a part of the Showtime-Nilesat platform?
programming, along with movies, news and kids channels, is one of the key components
of any pay-TV package. However, to provide value to the subscriber the programming
must be premium and exclusive.
The Middle East now has
five pay-TV packagesand many commercial free-to-air channelscompeting
for exclusive rights to sports events for satellite broadcast. Naturally, the
effect of competition is to drive up even further the cost of premium rights.
Showtime has set the standard
for football coverage in the Middle East with our production of four matches each
week from the English Premier League and the Coppa Italia, plus we have world
championship heavyweight boxing. However, this selection of top quality exclusive
events is not sufficient for Showtime to launch its own sports channel.
The objective since launch
has been to provide viewers with a complete entertainment packageincluding
sports. Given the pressures on sports rights we have been tracking a sports partner
for some time. Clearly, Abu Dhabi Sports is developing as the premium provider
of sports for the Middle East and I am delighted that we have entered into a strategic
The deal makes good sense
for Showtime and our subscribers, and it's also very good for Abu Dhabi Sports.
The channel has been repositioning its rights and looking to develop as an encrypted
channel so that it can generate revenue to offset programming costs. Abu Dhabi
Sports was looking to partner with a regional digital pay-TV provider and I am
delighted that Showtime was selected. The upshot will be greater funds to acquire
more rights so the move by Abu Dhabi Sports to become part of Showtime's Nilesat
platform is a three-way win-win-win.
TBS: Is Abu Dhabi
Sports planning to repackage its look in light of this dramatic repositioning?
Media Inc. (EMI) owns and operates a range of media as well as Abu Dhabi Sports.
It has some very strong brands like Emirates Radio and Abu Dhabi TV and it makes
sense for EMI to continue to leverage those brand values on Abu Dhabi Sports.
Certainly Showtime will be cross-promoting Emirates Media brands across the network.
Having said that, there
are some refinements to the way in which EMI produces programming. For example,
most live, premium sporting events will carry English as well as Arabic audio
commentary. Maybe we might also cooperate in providing the option of English or
Arabic language studio presentations, too. The facilitator for this change is
the Showtime MPEG-2, Open TV platform.
TBS: Any new channels
on the horizon?
launch Showtime has followed the path of providing more channels, more services
and greater choice to subscribers at no extra cost. Remember we launched with
just six channels four years ago and there are now 15 channels on the network,
plus 10 CD audio channels.
At the same time, we have
helped develop Nilesat as the regional hotbird. There are now more than 50 free-to-air
services on Nilesat providing leading Arabic, French, and English channels. Nilesat
is the single satellite solution for the Middle East that provides all the entertainment
needs that any member of a family could possibly want.
Nilesat 102 becomes operational
in the next few weeks and that will give us even more capacity to expand the network.
We are currently negotiating with channel providers and I expect to see several
more additions to the Showtime network in the near future.
This month [November 2000]
we launched TMC2, a multiplexed version of the best of The Movie Channel that
allows viewers to watch the films they want to watch when they want to watch them.
There will be a movie starting every hour on the hour on Showtime, and that means
Showtime viewers will have the choice of over 700 movies each month across Showtime's
four movie channels.
We have also soft launched
a full seven-day EPG (electronic program guide), a fully interactive TV listings
and information service available through the decoder. Not only does this help
subscribers in areas where TV guide distribution is difficult, but it will become
increasingly important later next year when decoders with up to 50 gigabytes of
rewriteable hard drive storage space start coming onto the market.
TBS: Any new services
on the horizon besidesbesides ShowCast and ShowNet, which we'll discuss
in a minute?
a stable, fully operational Open TV platform and fully MPEG-2, DVB compliant transmission,
Showtime has the potential to roll out a complete range of interactive digital
in-home entertainment services.
There are two key factors
to consider. First, we have to make sure that we deliver the services that subscribers
want. Too often technology-based companies offer services because they want to
use the technology rather than offer services that customers will use. I call
it technology looking for applications. Second, will there be enough demand from
subscribers to ensure that the services are cost-effective? Certainly the rate
in growth of the Showtime subscriber base now means that we have sufficient numbers
to ensure that any new services will find a market. What will those services be?
Pay-per-view first-run premium films and big stage events, maybe even exclusive
TBS: Where are
ShowCast and ShowNet going? What are the implications?
and ShowNet are important value-added additions for the Showtime subscriber. Remember
that ShowNet is the world's first fully MPEG-2 compliant Internet via satellite
service: that fact alone demonstrates our skill at harnessing technology and integrating
it in to user-friendly applications.
ShowCast and ShowNet offer
differing levels of turbo-charged browsingwhether it is a fast, family-friendly
virtual browsing experience with the benefit of three TV channels direct to your
home PC through ShowCast, or mega-fast, fully interactive Web browsing through
As our bandwidth increases
with Nilesat 102 fully operational we will be able to more aggressively market
both services, and develop the subscriber base for Internet services, without
comprising the speed of the service. Looking further ahead, the introduction of
new set-top boxes during next year will mean that users will have functional Web
access through their televisions. We are progressing steadily to achieve our goal
of being the preeminent provider of the widest range of digital, in-home entertainment
services. The next year will be very exciting. TBS