E-Vision, the cable TV arm of etisalat, has announced a major initiative to expand its content base to 300 channels this year. This will be the largest line-up of channels available in the country and will include a wide array of movies, sports, news and entertainment channels for children.
Humaid Rashid Sahoo Al Suwaidi (pictured above), CEO of E-Vision, spoke to Emirates Business about his expansion plans and the greatest challenges he sees in the marketplace.
What are your plans for the future?
We want to continue the momentum of our growth in 2008 and in the future. With just 39 channels in April 2000, we have grown our content base to 220, serving people in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and Al Ain. Since the beginning, our aim has been to cater to all kinds of viewers keeping in mind the demographics of the UAE. E-Vision is the only regional source to offer TV services in 21 different languages.
In 2007, we achieved our set targets and had about one million viewers. This year we plan to increase our customer base by 50 per cent on the back of a larger number of premium channels and triple play services, which will be launched soon by etisalat. With this service people can use TV, broadband and their phones all through one cable.
What’s your investment outlay for 2008? What are you going to invest in?
A lot of money is being invested to improve the network. E-Vision transmits on a fully digital Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) network to ensure crystal clear video resolution and CD quality audio output. It is because of our high-quality network that people do not experience any degradation or interruption of service. We want to cover all the areas in the country and we need money for that. Etisalat, being the network provider takes care of that.
As a content provider we are more concerned with increasing our content base with new and improved channels each year. Lastly, we have to invest money in advertising and promotions that keep happening every now and then.
What is the trend in the regional pay TV sector and what are you doing to capitalise on it?
Currently video-on-demand is the hot product. It gives you the freedom to watch what you want to, when you want to. We are growing strongly in this area but in five years time it will be the triple play services that will lead the pack.
This is set to become a major growth area as demand for converged services increases and the long-term winners in the region will be those who will be able to offer it.
Triple play is very convenient, as customers have to pay a single bill for TV, telephone and the internet. After triple play it will be quarter play that will also include mobile phone services. As far as triple play is concerned, we will benefit once etisalat rolls out the service.
How are you leveraging technology to make sure subscribers can have access to flexible mechanisms to enjoy their infotainment content?
Technology is a vehicle for us. Video-on-demand is one good option for customers. Then there is also something called catch-up TV. If you have missed your favourite programme, you can still view it through this particular service. We also have a personal video-recording service. For this, all you need to do is programme your set-top box to record whatever you want while you are away and watch it at a later stage. We try to use technology to make life easier and simpler for all of us.
There is a parallel illegal TV business running. How does it affect you and do you feel more should be done to stop it?
Yes, it’s affecting our business. They are normally cheaper because these broadcasters are serving the masses and can afford to lower their costs.
But all this is illegal, as they are not allowed to broadcast in this part of the world. We need to educate people and once they are aware I’m sure they will opt for legal providers. I remember reading in the papers about this and there were promos on TV educating people. The Arab Anti Piracy Association is trying its best to stop it.
Who are your biggest competitors in the market?
Free-to-air channels are our biggest competitors and we have some 300 to 400 of them in the Arab world. Again, we need to educate people about the benefits of Pay TV and once the awareness increases I’m sure more people will switch to our services.
Humaid Rashid Sahoo Al Suwaidi
As the CEOof Emirates Cable TV and Multimedia or E-Vision, Al Suwaidi is responsible for operations in the UAE. He joined etisalat in 1981 as an engineer and was promoted to senior engineer in 1985. He became general manager of Al Ain region and manager of the engineering in 1989.
He was selected to manage etisalat’s cable TV in 1997 and since then he has worked to position E-Vision as the top cable TV provider in the UAE. Al Suwaidi holds a degree in engineering from the University of Southern California in the United States.
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