EPG or Bust
This high-tech tool can give
Arab broadcasters the competitive edge they need, reports TBS Internet Technologies
Contributor Hamid Ouddane
With the enormous and ever-increasing number of TV programs being offered
nowadaysit could soon reach 500 digital channels worldwideviewers
are in need of help in navigating this myriad of options, a solution that will
provide them with more information on the programs and give them a simple, easy-to-follow
guide. Perhaps nowhere is this need greater, given the high density of satellite
channels in general and highly competitive pay-TV platforms in particular, than
in the Arab world.
The high volume of offerings
means that consulting the newspapers or a printed TV guide, or just waiting for
that pretty presenter to introduce us to a used-to-be blockbuster movie, no longer
works. The digital revolution in the broadcasting arena is the alternative, and
the tool is the electronic program guide (EPG).
EPGs are broadly known
as being any program guide on a digital TV set, set-top box, or satellite receiver.
They are a service provided by the broadcaster to the viewer at home, giving details
about TV programs that are on air at that time or that will be broadcast in the
near future. But in today's digital revolution, EPGs are becoming more of a portal
to broadcaster services, a gateway to a set of interactive applications, and even
an access point to the Internet. And that makes a good EPG more and more of a
necessity for a broadcaster's success in today's highly competitive broadcasting
The importance of the
EPG resides in the ineffectiveness of conventional services in presenting what
could be 500 channels worth of program information. It is almost impossible with
teletext or newspapers to scan through that number of channels to see if there
is anything good on, or if a particular program will be on today, or what's on
right now. But EPG makes it possible to provide the viewer with a fully detailed
description of the program: title, synopsis, casting, director, production year,
etc.--and presented in multiple languages.
This information is constantly
updated since it is present on air with the video and audio streams. It can be
accessed and downloaded any time the viewer requests it, and presented in an attractive
way through colorful screens, with high resolution to show pictures of good quality,
and an enhanced user experience thanks to flexible navigation. All these features
make the EPG an appealing place for advertisers to put their ads, just in the
same way they do on Internet pages, which means improved profits for broadcasters.
In the Middle East, where
pay-TV platforms emerged in the early nineties, broadcasters are keenly aware
of the importance of EPG in attracting new audiences--and, moreover, in keeping
their subscriber base.
ART (Arab Radio and Television)
provides subscribers to its 1st Net bouquet with an EPG service with program information
available in two languages, Arabic and English. The viewer can access the program
information in the language he sets in the decoder. However, this EPG service
provides information only about the current and the upcoming program.
Orbit's DTH platform also
provides an EPG service but in a form of a schedule, which sometimes is called
ESG (electronic schedule guide). What's interesting about Orbit's EPG is that
program information is available for all the channels of the bouquet, even those
that are not Orbit-supplied, such as CNN.
The other digital satellite
pay-TV platform is Gulf DTH, with the Showtime bouquet. Showtime offers an EPG
service similar to ART's, but only in English. What makes Showtime different than
the others is its joint platform with ShowNet Internet Solution Ltd. for providing
high-speed access to the World Wide Web. Even though the user still needs to have
a computer to view Web pages (the ideal scenario would be to be able to access
the Web through the decoder and view pages on the TV), this could be an attractive
feature that Showtime can implement in their EPG and make it a real gateway to
their interactive applications and to the Internet.
The use of EPG services
is not limited to satellite DTH players. Others such as E-Vision, a digital cable
TV operator in the United Arab Emirates, could become key players in pushing EPG
developments in the region, even if it is targeted only to residents of the UAE.
EPGs are important keys
to the future of digital television. They enable the viewer to cruise the complexities
of the new multi-channel and multi-services world. Digital TV competitors in the
Middle East will have to sharpen their EPGs in order to be ready to integrate
new features of the digital revolution such as pay-per-view, interactive channels,
and Internet browsing. Program information should be increasingly rich and accurate,
which might lead to companies specialized in providing that information to the
In short, a broadcaster's
success could be driven by the EPG it provides. TBS
Ouddane is EPG team leader at the Information Systems Department, Orbit