The first digital
cable TV network in the Arab World
was finally launched on April 15, 2000 by E-Vision, a subsidiary of Etisalat,
the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation.
Elsewhere in the Arab
world "cable" is usually either shorthand for "wireless cable," which is itself
shorthand for the MMDS microwave systems or for UHF terrestrial rebroadcast as
in the case of CNE (Cable Network Egypt). But in Dubai it's the real thing, homes
wired directly with hybrid fiber and coaxial cable. TBS Senior Editor S. Abdallah
Schleifer conducted this interview in Dubai.
S. Abdallah Schleifer:
How may homes have you wired?
Humaid A. Rashid Sahoo:
20,000 homes are now receiving E-Vision, 10,000 in Dubai and 10,000 in Abu Dhabi,
and we expect to have more than 175,000 homes cabled in Dubai and Abu Dhabi by
the middle of next year. We plan to cover the entire UAE within five years. Remember
cable is not like the satellite systems which simply beam their services directly
into those homes with dishes to receive the signal. Here we have to go out and
literally build the infrastructure by digging up roads and putting in cables.
It's a lot of work and we have to coordinate with other government agencies, so
it will take some time to penetrate every household in the Emirates. But it will
be worth it for the viewer. The fiber and coaxial cable provide enhanced picture
quality at all times without any degradation or interruption of service.
about content? How many channels are you transmitting and which are your most
Sahoo: We started
with 39 channels; at the moment we have more than 60 channels and these channels
cover all of the UAE demographicsArabic, Asian and English language. The
most outstanding for us are the premium channels, which are the Showtime cable
and ART cable bouquets. Apart from that we have many quality channels like CNN,
BBC World, BBC Prime, TV 5, and MBC as well as outstanding Asian channels and
most of the Arab national channels. [See column at right.]
Schleifer: I understand
you are also developing two of your own channels, a children's channel and a documentary
Sahoo: They are
not yet fully operative, but we have had something like a soft launch for these
channels, making them available now for a very select group of subscribers so
we can check both the technical capability and the program quality of those channels.
We are past the stage of a focus group and we are now in the first phase of testing.
We have two more phases of testing to go through before we publicly launch these
are you marketing E-Vision?
Sahoo: We have
what we call our basic bouquet and it consists of more than 40 channels. From
there the subscriber can go to our premium packages: ART cable and Showtime cable.
And we are offering some channels on an a la carte basis, specifically six channels
from the Indian subcontinent: B4U, Zee Cinema, Alpha Bangla, Alpha Marathi, Alpha
Gujarati, and Alpha Punjabi.
taken E-Vision a long time to reach this point. But I must say since I was in
Dubai early last spring you speeded up tremendously. Why did it take so long to
Sahoo: I think
the time we took was reasonable; it took us so long because we were very selective
in our choice and our testing of technology. And we were also selective in acquiring
the programming that we are now transmitting because we have to give our customers
the best product possible. That's why it took so much time, but I think it pays
are the first digital and true cable operation in the Arab world. What is it about
Dubai that makes it such a leader in digital TV?
Sahoo: It has to
do with our mother company, Etisalat. We are always innovative, always bringing
in new technology that suits our society. So we are always providing our customers
with services based on cutting-edge technologies. That's why we could conceive
of digital cable TV. It's a huge investment for us but we are bringing a new technology
and a new service to our customers. And we decided to be fully digital because
that is clearly the future for us and for the worlds of telecommunications and
entertainment. I would say that the UAE and Etisalat are always the pioneers in
this area. And anybody in the Arab world is welcome to learn from our experience.
are the demographics of your audience?
Sahoo: Our target
market here are the Arab expatriates and UAE citizens as one group, the Asians
as a second group, and the Western expatriates. So our plan is to target those
three niches within our market.
have just launched an advertising campaign in the local press, something you appear
to be doing with Showtime. Do you have a marketing/advertising cooperation agreement
Sahoo: Yes, that's
part of the deal we have with Showtime, that we advise our viewers about the Showtime
channels that just recently became available on E-Vision.
Schleifer: Do you
have any plans to offer interactive services?
Sahoo: Our set-top
boxes are two-way so interactivity will be no problem. We will be introducing
pay-per-view very shortly and we are firmly committed to offering a full range
of other interactive services such as interactive games and shopping.
note: For more on E-Vision and other digital developments in Dubai over the past
year, see this issue's article "The Dubai
Digital Broadcasting Miracle" by TBS Senior Editor S. Abdallah Schleifer.