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Informa finds 79.9 million TV households in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at end-2010

While nascent TV markets - like the Middle East and Africa - are by their very nature subject to significant and rapid change, the past couple of years have been particularly dramatic.

A trio of pay TV operators - Orbit Communications, Arab Radio & Television (ART) and Showtime Arabia - had dominated the pay TV sector since the mid-1990s. The merging of Showtime and Orbit to create the Orbit Showtime Network (OSN) is an ambitious attempt to take pay TV to the mass market by moving beyond the affluent demographics that have been targeted to date.

Since the creation of OSN there have also been significant changes at ART - it having sold or licensed off much of its premium Arabic entertainment and sports content. This leaves OSN as the region’s undisputed ‘full service’ pay TV leader.

But it would be an oversimplification to call OSN ‘dominant’. Al Jazeera Sports (AJS) and Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) have invested heavily in acquiring premium sports content for their pay TV bouquets. With sport, particularly soccer, the most attractive genre for local audiences, this makes them significant players too.

New research from Informa Telecoms & Media has found that there were 79.9 million TV households in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at end-2010. Sub-Saharan Africa has another 36.8 million TV households. Satellite TV dominates, being the primary TV service in 65% of MENA TV households. Some homes, particularly in Gulf States, either have two dishes or a dual LNB (amplifier) to take signals from two satellites.

With satellite so dominant (see fig. 1), there has been limited cable and IPTV activity, although IPTV, in particular, is growing fairly quickly, albeit from a very low base. Despite some signs of progress, broadband penetration in the region remains low. IPTV is therefore restricted from even greater progress, both by this lack of broadband penetration and also by the fact that where broadband is in place it is not always suitably robust to facilitate IPTV provision.

Fig. 1: MENA, TV platform penetration trend, 2005 and 2010

MENA, TV platform penetration trend, 2005 and 2010

Legislative/regulatory issues continue to pose difficulties for the TV sector. The close relationship between the state and many broadcasters is often seen as having an inhibiting effect, although the pro-democracy 'Arab Spring' movement may help to loosen these ties a little. Some media legislation meanwhile is....

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