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Sat 25 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Jumping into the spotlight

Talfazat GM Amir Hegazi on the firm's strategy to bring Arabic online TV services into the mainstream.

Last month, Talfazat.com, an Arabic language online TV portal operated by JumpTV, launched operations, replacing JumpTV Arabic. Digital Broadcast spoke to Talfazat GM Amir Hegazi, about the company's strategy to bring Arabic language-online TV services into the mainstream.

Broadcast networks the world over are establishing online content delivery platforms in a bid to maximise audience numbers and generate new advertising revenue. Some have chosen to develop their own proprietary technologies such as the BBC with its iPlayer and the NBC Universal/News Corp joint venture, Hulu.

However, for smaller broadcasters, the cost of online infrastructure investment often remains too great. Quite often, a viable solution in these instances is to outsource service provision to third-party organisations.

Arabic language programming now accounts for one-third of all content viewed on JumpTV. We have come to realise that gaining mass appeal requires you to offer both live and VOD programming. - Amir Hegazi, General Manager, Talfazat.

While YouTube is a straightforward and popular choice for broadcasters looking to post shorter clips and segments, hosting live TV presents a more challenging and complex proposition. It is a market occupied by a small number of organisations; one of which is JumpTV.

Last month, the US-headquartered company launched a new service, Talfazat, which offers subscribers exclusive access to Arabic language broadcast programming via the web.

Previously, Talfazat's parent company JumpTV, offered largely live, linear programming in Arabic, with a focus on sports and international stations. This service catered mainly to expatriate Arabic speaking audiences in the US and Canada, despite being available anywhere with an internet connection.

"I think it is crucial for TV channels to have an online presence," says Amir Hegazi, general manager of Talfazat. "It is important not only in terms of reaching new audiences, but also in terms of creating a community and getting feedback on your programming. It enables you to build a relationship with your audience."

JumpTV Arabic had been operating for two years prior to the creation of Talfazat, but Hegazi stresses that the new service represents more than just a re-brand.

"We had previously targeted niche users such as frequent travellers and expats. The new service will target a broader share of the market," he says. "The relaunched service mixes live and video on demand (VOD) services and an affordable pricing structure.

"Arabic language programming now accounts for one-third of all content viewed on JumpTV. We have come to realise that gaining mass appeal requires you to offer both live and VOD programming.

Although we were already offering JumpTV Arabic, we wanted to tweak this service for an Arab audience and also make a few changes to the JumpTV model. We've also been more aggressive with the marketing for Talfazat."

In addition to the new Arabic online service, JumpTV is also looking to pursue offerings on other platforms, however Hegazi admits that these are not the company's top priority.

"Mobile content delivery services are certainly something we are interested in pursuing in the long-term," he says. "However, in the short-term, we are focusing on some other exciting developments.

One such development is a set top box (STB) being developed by New York-based company NeuLion, which was recently acquired by JumpTV. "We will be launching a STB in the US and Canada in November of this year, which will enable users to view JumpTV content on their television receivers," explains Hegazi, adding that he sees strong potential for the service in the Middle East.

"Many people live in high rise buildings and look for alternative distribution methods than satellite. We think the next market after North America would be either the UK or Saudi Arabia. We have had some discussions along those lines already," reveals Hegazi.

He also admits that ideally this service would be offered in partnership with an incumbent telco.

"Leveraging the relationship with a telco would be good value and it would also allow us to bring the product to market faster than we could otherwise," Hegazi explains. "In terms of the Middle East, I believe KSA and UAE are prime markets [for the STB offering].

We are confident the STB would prove popular but we will have to ensure that we have the correct set up with the local providers and have all the relationships in place with regards to distribution. If we can offer this at the right cost, then it should prove quite appealing to consumers.

Hegazi points to another JumpTV venture as an example of what they are looking to achieve with Talfazat. Operated by NeuLion, KyLinTV has around 30,000 subscribers, and according to Hegazi, the largest VOD library in the world standing at 30,000 hours and counting. The service is available in Cantonese and Mandarin, with the majority of viewers based outside mainland China.

"We launched Talfazat about a month ago and the feedback we've received from our broadcast partners has so far been positive," says Hegazi. "We added a few thousand subscribers in the first few days even though some of the content was pending and there were still some alterations to be made to the site.

We work with most of the top content providers in the region and we are in contact with a few more with the intention of adding more channels. Hopefully they will come through within the next few quarters, but we are not exclusively focused on our live TV channels. We are also looking to expand our library of VOD content. We currently have 2000 hours of content in our archives."

JumpTV provides all the content and digital rights management, billing and customer services for broadcasters with revenues derived from subscription fees and advertising shared between both parties.

Whether Middle East viewers will be prepared to pay subscription fees for online access to channels they can receive FTA by satellite, remains to be seen.

US consumer surveyTV remains king

It is hard to foresee a time when the nuclear family will settle down in front of a notebook PC together to watch their favourite movie. Despite the recent improvements in quality and quantity of content available online, this situation appears unlikely to change in the near future.

That assertion has recently been backed up by research from The Nielsen Company on behalf of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM).

The survey showed that 94 percent adults who are also subscribed to cable or satellite services would rather watch traditional television. Despite this 35 percent of respondents said they had watched a programme online, originally aired on TV.

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