When TBS talked
with Zilo for the Fall 1998 issue, he predicted that Orbit would soon strengthen
its production presence in the Arab world. Zilo and Orbit have been true to their
wordparticularly in Egypt, Dubai, and Jordan, all with media free zones
that are most attractive. But informed industry sources indicate that Orbit remains
committed to the basic strategy of moving headquarters from Rome to Bahrain. TBS
Senior Editor S. Abdallah Schleifer conducted the interview.
Abdallah Schleifer: What is the status of your long-drawn-out consideration
of upgrading your MPEG technology, particularly so it is compatible with Nilesat?
Technological decisions for emerging markets are indeed complex. The decisions
associated with our new DVB technology of choice have been arduous owing to the
transient nature of technological evolution and the constant industry modifications,
changes and enhancements being made to both hardware and middleware. Although
we have not yet formally made any announcement, I wish to share with you that
we have made our final decisions regarding the appropriate choice of set-top box
technology, conditional access and operating systems. Our DVB management team
comprising our broadcast engineers, IT staff, and our various technological associates
commenced the global integration process in June 2000.
Orbit will be coming on board Nilesat, the satellite that many professionals believe
is the "hot bird" in the Middle East. Why has this taken so long and what finally
galvanized Orbit into taking action?
Zilo: At this particular
juncture, I believe that it is very difficult and inappropriate to attribute the
term "hotbird" to any one particular satellite, since our region hosts multiple
satellites and since they all contain relevant and popular vernacular programming.
"Content is king," if you will, and it is content embraced by the market over
time which determines the profile and value of any given satellite. At present,
for every professional who defines Nilesat as a "hotbird," there will be another
professional who will attribute the same nomenclature to Arabsat. The ideal and
true scenario for broadcasters and consumers would be for Arabsat and Nilesat
and agents in Dubai, most of whom have very positive things to say about Orbit's
quality, are nevertheless greatly depressed by the sudden inability of Orbit to
provide them with the boxes that will decode and decrypt Orbit. What is going
Zilo: As is typical
with regard to inferences made about issues in the Middle East, one must be able
to know the difference between mirage and reality. Given that Orbit is going to
introduce new state-of-the-art DVB set-top box technology, it is sensible that
we be extremely cautious about stockpiling our present STB technology. By the
same token therefore, the distributors with whom you have spoken are also demonstrating
caution in stockpiling these STBs. That said, we maintain sufficient quantities
of STBs at all times in order to satisfy current demands in all our markets.
May you converted the Orbit website into a portal. What does that mean in terms
of Orbit's future?
Zilo: Since inception,
Orbit has spearheaded new technologies and has as a result enjoyed a reputation
as a pioneer. This spirit is still with us. With the advent and growth of the
Internet, one of Orbit's key strategies is to become a regional leader in this
domain.Orbit's conversion of its website into a portal service was the first step
in this direction. In the short period since the establishment of the portal,
the service has received a little over four million hits to date.
Looking ahead, you will
see a very strategically focused and determined management team paving the path
for Orbit to become a full participant and leader in all facets of the delivery
and content of material on the Internet. This long-term strategy is a further
testament to Orbit's plans to become a vertically integrated telecommunications
company geared to responding to the emerging needs and cultural tastes of the
new channels planned or near the horizon?
Zilo: With the
introduction of Orbit's services on Arabsat and Nilesat, the satellite capacity
that has been made available to Orbit will de facto mean an increase in the level
of services offered to subscribers. Additional services will incorporate more
vernacular channels, multilingual thematic channels, pay-per-view, Internet delivery
and interactive services.
recently (and exclusively) added BBC Prime to its Middle East/North African bouquet.
How significant would you evaluate this acquisition to be?
BBC Prime brings an entirely new perspective and dimension to the entertainment
proposition on the Orbit digital platform. Entertainment programming from the
United Kingdom has distinct appeal to our audience and BBC Prime complements our
existing offer. Orbit continues to lead the field in broadcasting in the Arab
world with the finest in international programming; new, original, and eclectic
Arabic entertainment channels; and unparalleled comprehensive customer services.