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Wed 29 Dec 2010 12:00 AM

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Social climber

Telcos are flooding the Middle East with designs on running the multiscreen show. Motorola’s Alper Turken feels that social networking and security are the keys to successful convergence.

Social climber

If you’re reading this magazine, chances are you don’t need
telling how exciting the Middle East broadcast
market is right now. On its bleeding edge was last month’s IPTV Forum, held at Dubai’s monolithic
Jumeira Beach Hotel, where decision makers from the region and beyond locked
minds over strategies and innovations at the industry’s forefront.

“These types
of forums always create a momentum, and they always give some form of
direction,” says Motorola sales director, Middle East & Turkey, Alper
Turken. “Participation has been very strong and effective. It is helping
stakeholders to reach a common view about where the market is heading, and to
set the agenda for the next 12 months.” Turken smiles warmly while gesturing
for a seat on Motorola’s stand, one of the show’s biggest, where he has been
espousing the virtues of Motorola’s new Medios suite, an end-to-end solution
running the gamut of viewing options.

“This is an IPTV event, but now we’ve reached a point where
IPTV has become much more than IPTV: with the inclusion of over the top (OTT)
content, with the added dimension of bringing that content not only to the
television but also the mobile device, PC and now tablet,” says Turken. “And
I’m sure that in the very near future we will add some more screens, offering
the end user a consistent experience and personalisation capabilities over the
screens he has already. It requires a very broad and sophisticated portfolio to
make this happen, from encoders, to content positioning engines, to content
delivery networks (CDNs). And we have called this suite Medios.”

Medios’ name alone shows how the market is speeding along at
a furious pace, claims Turken. “In the past we used to name the service with
the technology which enabled it,” he says. “We used to talk about ADSL, GSM.
Now we have redefined the service with the value it is offering the user. It’s
all about convergence. If you go back five years or so, IPTV was a new addition
to telcos’ service providing portfolios. Today video services have become an
integral part of the telco portfolio. The question is what we can do next to
create this synergy between different services, how to bring the interactivity
element among those services to create a unified experience for the end-user.”

But why the Middle East?
Why now? “It has a lot to do with broadband penetration in the region,” says
Turken. “And it depends on how you define the Middle East.
It has a large population but still relatively low DSL and fibre to the home
(FTTH) penetration. What we have seen happening over the past two years is
growth significantly increasing, especially in markets like the UAE, and we are
watching accelerated broadband growth in Saudi and Qatar. As broadband penetration
increases, it allows higher value services like video, IPTV and multiscreen to
be rolled out. There is definitely a learning curve the market will have to go
through, but I do believe in leapfrogging Europe
in this region, such as in FTTH where the UAE is at the forefront.”

With so many telcos making waves in IP services, Turken
stresses the need for a holistic approach to the market. And with so many
competitors offloading various portions of their IPTV services onto other
firms, he feels Motorola’s main strength is that it is oiling every part of the
chain in-house. “A typical IPTV service will include solutions from a very long
list of technology providers,” says Turken. “And you will also find that
integration of these into each other, and making it so that the end-user
experience is consistent with the strategy of the operator, is operationally
very time-consuming, complicated, and from a time-to-market perspective, long.

“Our advantage with Medios is that it is an end-to-end
solution, from encoders to CDNs to mediaflow to merchandise image,” adds
Turken. “It allows the operator to position the content, to sell the content
and to edit the content over multiple screens. And it can add more advanced
dimensions, such as social TV.” This social aspect is at the forefront of
Medios, which Turken claims is backed up by Motorola’s recent research project,
the Media Engagement Barometer. “Social networking is becoming an integral part
of the TV viewing experience,” he says. “The regional media barometer survey we
have carried out says that in 13 countries, and the UAE is one of them, we have
seen a very strong demand for interaction between social networking and video
consumption.”

The barometer, which took in over 7,500 consumers from 13
different countries, claims that 73 per cent of those surveyed would consider
changing their TV service provider to one offering a social aspect. Combined
with the fact that 56 per cent of those surveyed ranked the ability to watch
content on the go a priority, and Medios appears perfectly poised to take
advantage of an increasingly young and affluent Middle Eastern population.
Turken is confident of Medios’ placing, even in corners of the region where
cost-effectiveness is of greater importance. “There is a great deal of
potential in the Middle East,” he says.
“Free-to-air  and satellite are very
strong in the region, so I think a successful strategy will need to combine the
region’s growth with the fact that for some areas you will need to offer more
cost-effective propositions. But even in those cost-sensitive areas, the demand
for data consumption is still very high. It must be a holistic approach.”

It’s a holistic approach which, if you examine Motorola’s
recent market activity, places the tackling of piracy on a fairly high
pedestal. This January the telco took an enormous step towards tightening up
its services, by gobbling up US-based conditional access firm SecureMedia.
Turken believes that these big moves are setting a combative agenda for
battling the Middle East’s many hackers.
“Piracy is an issue in the Middle East. I know
that a lot of people, some our partners, as well as governments, are taking it
very seriously,” he says.

“It is essential to establish strong foundations for the
next generation of video services,” adds Turken. “Because at the end of the day
we’re talking about delivering content, which is valued over multiple screens,
to the user. If you don’t have an effective approach to protect and monetise
the content, then you are missing a very strong pillar of the foundation. That
was the rationale behind the acquisition of SecureMedia, and I’m sure it has
significantly strengthened Medios.” With an explosion in convergence just
around the corner, it appears Motorola is strengthening its vow to become a
market leader.