DUBAI: Broadcasters in the Gulf region can capitalise on the shift of viewing habits towards high definition television as current broadband speeds cannot handle that volume of data, according to a leading industry figure.

Cliff Nelson, CEO of My-HD, a low-cost direct-to-home platform,  told Gulf News that TV and satellite broadcasters had an advantage over streamed content. "HD transmission requires 6-12 Megabits a second per channel which is a lot of bandwidth, and most countries in this region don't offer that kind of consistent bandwidth via IP," he said.

Nelson acknowledged that consumers could find cheap or free content on the web and said that in future premium priced content providers would "inevitably" suffer more, in both audience terms and in the advertising rates they could charge.

But for now, "satellite is definitely more affordable and reliable than IP for HD delivery", he stated. His own organisation offered 44 HD-enabled channels on its platform out of 55 channels.

Nelson also suggested that premium-priced pay-TV had "limited potential" in the Middle East, being restricted to a niche audience who could afford the high monthly fees involved.

He noted that "the existing premium platforms cater to less than a few percentage of TV households across Mena and that hasn't grown much during the past few years" and, apart from sports, he did not anticipate that situation changing.

Technology aside, another factor holding back the growth of streaming content was the nature of the region's television viewing habits.

Ali Asghar Mir, managing director at media agency Integrated Advertising Services, observed that families tended to watch TV together. "It's unlikely that a sea change will happen unless we skip a generation or two," he said.

In addition, with the majority of Arabic channels being free-to-air they were more likely to be an integral part of the household.

He thought web TV would make inroads in markets like Saudi Arabia and the UAE where both the youth demographic and broadband speeds were higher, but in the end traditional TV, DTH platforms and web TV would be able to co-exist.

Data sourced from Gulf News; additional content by Warc staff