Abu Dhabi’s Yahlive sees little threat from Netflix and other streaming services

The Abu Dhabi satellite broadcaster Yahlive has insisted that it faces little threat from internet streaming services such as Netflix across its footprint, given the lack of broadband infrastructure across its core markets.

The Yahlive chief executive Sami Boustany said the lack of broadband infrastructure across much of the wider Middle East region, especially countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, ensured there was plenty of room for growth within the satellite broadcast industry.

“There’s certainly going to be some erosion from satellite’s market share in the region, and you see it clearly in a market such as the UAE because you can get everything through [the fibre infrastructure of] du and Etisalat, and the affordability is there,” he said.

“However, the majority of the countries that we’re covering are still in desperate need of new [telecoms] infrastructure, and with the turmoil going on in many of them, the expectation is that it’s not going to happen any time soon.

“Satellite penetration in these countries remains very low, leaving plenty of room for growth,” Mr Boustany said.

Netflix announced last week that it would launch its internet streaming services, currently only available to Middle East internet users through VPN connections, in the region by the end of next year.

The streaming service has had a significant impact on traditional media providers in developed markets in western Europe and the United States, with many customers opting out of cable and satellite subscriptions.

But satellite subscriptions still remained high even in developed markets, said Mr Boustany.

“In the UK, which has the highest penetration of broadband in Europe, [the satellite provider] Sky’s subscriber base is going up, not down,” he said.

“There’s evidence throughout the whole of Europe that satellite subscriptions are going up.”

Yahlive was launched in 2011 as a joint venture between the Mubadala subsidiary YahSat and the Luxembourg satellite operator SES, offering satellite broadcast services across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and south-west Asia.

Yahlive’s broadcast offering has grown to more than 200 channels over the past two-and-a-half years, with its total viewership growing to more than 26 million at the end of last year.

Much of the growth in viewers has come through its Farsi offering, according to Mr Boustany.

“We estimate the Farsi-speaking community in the wider region outside of Iran is between 120 to 140 million, equivalent to nearly half the population of Europe,” he said.

“We’ve aggregated a lot of Farsi-speaking channels outside of Iran, from communities in Europe and the US, who had traditionally been streaming their content over the internet.”

“We’ve got more than 80 Farsi channels, and we’re now by far the largest aggregator of content in that language.”

The company last month launched a 43-channel bouquet for the Greater Arab Maghreb region, in partnership with France’s Sahli Media Group.


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