CAIRO, EGYPT With its March launch of the Al-Awael bouquet, ART (Arab Radio and Television), acting through its platform management company Arab Digital Distribution (ADD), has positioned itself as an across-the-board competitor, rather than Arabic-language niche player, in the Middle East's pay-TV arena.
In the words of ADD Chairman Sheikh Saleh Kamel, the new Al-Awael bouquet provides Arab viewers with "a total entertainment solution" in terms of being able to meet the viewing and price needs of different households across the region.
Prior to the launch, ADD CEO John Tydeman told TBS that the group made the decision to become a platform provider, rather than focus on its own channels. And, Tydeman said, with the explosion in the market of free-to-air Arabic channels added to a demand for Western channels, it was time to rethink the group's Arabic-only offerings.
It now appears that ADD has done exactly that. Until late last year, the ART package consisted of a handful of mainly ART-produced Arabic-language channels. The new Al-Awael bouquet consists of thirty channels, mainly Arabic but supported by premium international channels. Subscribers can choose the basic 16-channel package, or add on extra sports, movie, or drama bouquets.
Tydeman believes pay-TV is driven by three things: "quality exclusive events, premium movies, and premium sports." Al-Awael includes six sports channels-the original ART Sport plus its new premium-events counterpart ART Sport 2, Nile Sport (one of the Nilesat Thematic Channels from the Egyptian Radio and Television Union), Eurosport, Eurosport News, and MUTV (Manchester United football). The original ART Arabic film channel is joined by Turner Classic Movies, The Film Channel (featuring Western movies), and the Hindi movie channel B4U, which will be subtitled into Arabic.
Al-Awael includes nine variety channels-ART Variety, Nile Variety, Animal Planet, Reality TV, the Tunisian Channel, Fashion, Jordan Space Channel, the ART education channel Monaj, and the LBC-produced WOW-plus three news channels (CNN, Bloomberg, Fox), two kids/youth channels (Turner Cartoon Network and ART Teenz), two drama channels (Nile Drama and ART Hekayat), and four music channels (ART Music, ART Tarab, MCM, and B4U Music).
Eight other channels are "affiliated" and unencrypted: Nile News, Al-Jazeera, BBC World, Iqraa, MBC, Zein (targeted at teens and young adults), NBN, and Future. Subscribers also can also receive over 40 free-to-air channels. The affiliates lend cache, but they along with many other largely Arabic-language free-to-air channels are available not only to ADD/ART subscribers but to anyone with a Nilesat dish and receiver.
While Al-Awael is clearly targeted at Arabic speakers with interest in international programming, both the number and scope of foreign-language channels now offered on the primarily Arabic bouquet, plus the offerings of FirstNet and Pehla, make it clear that ADD is positioned to compete with the region's two other major pay-TV bouquet providers, Showtime and Orbit. Showtime, marketing itself as "the best of Western entertainment," offers a recently expanded package of English-language, Arabic-subtitled programming, with free-to-air Arabic channels. Orbit, with its "something for everyone" theme, offers five Arabic and twelve English-language channels.
ADD Chairman Sheikh Saleh Kamel made subtle comparisons, without naming names, at the Al-Awael launch between Al-Awael and other regional services-saying, for example, that The Film Channel will "run the same movie perhaps three time a year, as opposed to 18 or more replays of the same movie on other channels."
While the focus of the March launch was Al-Awael, ADD has also been busy putting together platforms targeting the region's English and Hindi speakers-FirstNet and Pehla, respectively.
The FirstNet bouquet consists of CNN, Bloomberg, Eurosport, Eurosport News, TCM, MCM, Animal Planet, MUTV, Cartoon Network, B4U Music, Fashion, ART Sport, and Reality TV, with option to enhance with Firstnet Gold, The Film Channel, and ART Sports 2.
Pehla, available in regions such as the Gulf with large Hindi-speaking communities, offers Star News, Star Gold, Star Plus, Zee TV, Zee Music, Zee Cinema, Channel V, B4U, B4U music, and Pehla Plus, in addition to a selection of the English-language news, kids, and variety channels offered through ADD's other packages.
ADD has also launched a new website-adduniverse.com-which will eventually, according to Tydeman, include streaming video. ADD plans to offer Open TV, an electronic program guide service, to subscribers by the end of the year.