Issue No. 2
Spring 1999
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TBS REPORTS

Dubai Cable Trade Talk
EDTV to Launch Four New Free-to-Air Channels,
New Arabsat Captures Middle East Hotbird Status

By TBS Contributing Editor Chris Forrester

The big story from the 1999 Dubai Cable and Satellite Show was Arabsat 3A, which was successfully launched February 27, 1999, and which will be co-located with its existing sister craft. But the main news from the show was that Orbit has reserved six transponders on Arabsat, up from only one promotional news channel, and the ART bouquet will take an additional three—totalling about one-third of the available capacity. Indeed, according to the Arabsat representative at the show, the new craft is "fully booked" save for about fifteen percent of its capacity being reserved for redundancy purposes.

This is shocking news. It means the status quo currently split between Arabsat, Intelsat, and Nilesat changes, and it radically alters the position and power of Arabsat in that mix. It seems Orbit will dual-emit from Intelsat and Arabsat for the time being, but at some time in the future switch off their Intelsat feeds. This decision is a further blow to Nilesat and its key platform Showtime, which is now further isolated from the increasingly attractive Arabsat—now undoubtedly the "hotbird position" over the Middle East.

Orbit, it is understood, will share their capacity between themselves and Star Select, the predominantly Western bouquet owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Star Select currently broadcasts about 12 channels, but intends to add at least three new channels later this autumn. Orbit can reasonably be expected to either extend some of the channels which currently share a transponder into full or longer day parts.

While this extension of pay-television platforms, in digital, boosts their chances, the fact remains that Arabsat's free-to-air channels continue to dominate viewers' preferences. And to this crowded marketplace, Dubai TV, concerned that they too must make a fundamental step change to their broadcasting, will by mid-April have three all-new channels on air in digital from Arabsat and will completely revamp EDTV (Emirates-Dubai Television). This bouquet of four channels—EDTV, EDTV Sport, EDTV Drama, and EDTV Business News—will again provide extra competition for the established channels.

Dubai's action is designed to reaffirm its once-important position in satellite television. Dubai was the first satellite broadcaster in the region, the first to get its signals over Europe, and the first over North America, and it sees EDTV Business News as filling an important niche, with European and North American distribution happening simultaneously. The Business News channel, intriguingly, will be in English and Arabic and transmit for some 18 hours a day. In addition to APTN and Reuters, they are establishing their own newsgathering bureaus throughout the Middle East and in the other financial capitals. They have hired many of the former Financial Times TV team and Financial Times and Agence France Presse will be supplying the core market data to the channel. Curiously, the Business News channel will also be broadcast on Nilesat, but not the other Dubai channels. Budget figures were not revealed. TBS

Copyright 1999 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo
E-mail: TBS@aucegypt.edu