Discovery Networks: “biggest challenge for IPTV in the MEA region is bandwidth”

Technology & Convergence

We speak to Kasia Kieli, executive vice president and managing director for Discovery Networks Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa (CEEMEA).

Q: What major developments have you witnessed in the IPTV industry in the past 12 months?

IPTV has revolutionised the way in which we receive information and we have entered a new era of communications technology.

Although it is still early days, there has been some interesting progress, and the largest driving factor in the Middle East to date has been the launch of IP-based TV services by the TV manufacturers trying to promote the value proposition of connected TVs.

The biggest players who have launched such services are LG, Samsung and Sony, and I believe this will lead to a plethora of competing platforms in the future.

Q: What role do you think IPTV will take in the Pay-TV market within the Middle East and Africa in the coming years?

A: I believe we will see exciting developments in the Arab region for IPTV. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are already becoming competitive on a global scale in terms of IPTV deployment, and penetration is increasing throughout the region, depending on the availability of broadband.

That said, our view is that players are unlikely to win in this market without working with other parts of the value chain, which is where content providers like Discovery are well positioned as valued partners in the emergence of new technologies. Without great content, which is what Discovery prides itself on, all this technology means nothing.

Q: How much of a threat do you think over-the-top video is becoming to established pay-TV services?

A: We want our viewers to be able to access our content when and where it's convenient for them, but we need to find the healthiest business model. We are constantly evaluating new entrants based on what they can offer, and how they work with our content while not cannibalising our existing model. But traditional, linear broadcasting is doing very well and growing.

Audiences still spend the vast majority of their time consuming live television. And the broadcast proposition itself has evolved with the introduction of HD and now 3D. I suspect we’ll see a market where multiple business models co-exist for quite some time to come, some new and some old.

Q: What do you believe are the major challenges the IPTV industry is still facing?

A: The biggest challenge for IPTV in the MEA region is bandwidth, which is being addressed and is currently set to grow over the next five years. The Middle East has been a leader in mobile TV developments with licences in the UAE and developments in Qatar.

I also believe that distributors and content providers need to work together better to ensure the technology, service and content provided to customers are in line with their expectations, and this is an area we are currently spending a great deal of time looking at.

Q: Do you agree that content security issues are the biggest obstacle to TV Everywhere services?

A: Discovery has a long-standing position of not giving away its content for free online. Content security is no doubt one issue, but bandwidth in the Middle East and delivery platforms are still being challenged to provide seamless TV Everywhere experience. The TV Everywhere model is still premature in the East in comparison to the US and Western Europe.

That said, we are optimistic about the potential for TV Everywhere and we look at each market on a case by case basis. Our goal is to enhance the bundle experience through our partners, while ensuring the consumer is able to experience our world-renowned content. This is why we focus so heavily on enhancing our consumer experience through services like HD and VOD. 

Q: How popular do you think over-the-top video services will become in your market?

OTT platforms enable new and more interactive forms of content to be distributed, allowing for example specific content brands to provide a more engaging service to consumers. As developer apps start to come to the TV, you'll have even more content added every single day, but this will be different brand and content extensions of a show or programme. This will be another way of accessing consumers through various touch points.

How do you think content providers and IPTV operators can work together better?

A: We provide operators with a great product, which in turn means we continue to develop and deliver great content. Both parties benefit when more content is consumed as on-demand or linear.

This year Discovery Communications has invested US$ 1bn in content production across the US and its global operations. We are no small player in this business. We believe that the most important thing is to deliver a service that's valuable to the consumer. If we can do this everyone wins.

It is hard right now, because we're dealing with a lot of unknowns, but again, we see IPTV operators supplementing and building off of the existing TV experiences, not replacing them. 

Our goal is to work with distributors and platform partners to find innovative new ways to take the TV experience to the next level. If we do this right and we do it together, we can take consumer engagement and satisfaction to the next level through first mover advantage.

Kasia spoke at the IP&TV Forum Middle East & North Africa 2011 event, taking place in Dubai on 1st-2nd November, 2011.