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#SpaceWatchGL Op’Ed: Quo Vadis CabSat 2018

Is the Middle Eastern satellite broadcasting market ripe for disruptive innovation? With new methods of content delivery through social media and mobile devices, and the advent of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Blockchain technologies, ThorGroup’s Torsten Kriening argues that satellite broadcast companies operating in the region have little reason to feel complacent.

Since its establishment 24 years ago, CabSat has remained one of the most important exhibitions and congresses in the broadcast technology market worldwide. The community of technology vendors, service providers, and satellite operators meets in Dubai early in the year.

ThorGroup’s COO Torsten Kriening is Chairman of the conference

A trade show like CabSat is a mirror of the economics of the target market. The current local geopolitical situation without doubt causes a few challenges. One of the biggest media technology buyers from the region did not make it to Dubai. It also seems that the situation at MBC is paying tribute to the campaign of the Saudi Arabian government.

However, putting all this aside, this year also created opportunities and changes. SpaceWatch.Global was delighted to be given the opportunity to chair the Satellite Communications Conference on the first day of the event. Distinguished guests spoke about their current achievements and their visions for the future.

H.E. Dr AlAhbabi in an interview after his welcome speech

H.E. Dr. Mohammed AlAhbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency, pointed out the far-reaching ambitions of the UAE in space and space exploration. To achieve this ambitious goal, more initiatives in STEM must be initiated. Excitingly, the call for applications for the UAE Astronaut Programme and the National Space Science Academy, has already been put out.

Dr. Mahama Ouedraogo, from the African Union Commission, described the framework that will enable Africa to participate in the space race in upcoming years – an exciting prospect indeed.

Another highlight was Ian Christensen’s Secure World Foundation presentation about space sustainability and the basis of the current and future uninterrupted usage of space assets such as Global Navigation Systems, Earth Observation, weather satellites or communication and broadcast services. Eutelsat also gave an overview about the current numbers of the satellite broadcast market, marked by an all-time high of 93% satellite usage for receive TV programmes in the region.

View from the stage during the Satellite Communications Conference

The afternoon sessions put their spotlight on various segments. Royal Jets Technical Director Husham Osman, gave an overview on flight connectivity for their fleet. In the oil and gas spotlight session, Curt Smith discussed the usage of earth imagery and drone services to monitor pipelines, oil spills and other challenges in remote areas. Tony Field of Lloyds Register highlighted in the maritime spotlight session the lack of communication infrastructure for cross-ocean autonomous cargo ships followed by a discussion on the panel with Waleed Altamimi of TASNEEF.

In the last spotlight session on telco and broadcast services, Dr Naser Refat of Rotana Media Group, Markus Fritz of Eutelsat, and Peter van Dam of Live HD, discussed potential new trends in the broadcast market. Those trends are Big Data and artificial intelligence to tailor customer advertisement experience. Another key development discussed on the panel was Blockchain technology to monitor the usage of content and to fight content piracy. However, this might take time to bring to the mass market as basic challenges like a central content catalogue must first be established. On the other hand, today’s reality is the dominant linear TV usage in Standard Definition (SD) with a growing trend to High Definition (HD) in the region. Ultra High Definition (UHD) is yet to come.

One remark made days later on LinkedIn that caught my attention came from Joe Morrison, Director of Television at Muscat Media Group. He said: “After wasting 3 days at the recent CabSat conference in Dubai listening to TV industry bosses talk up the future of linear TV  it was refreshing to wake up this morning and see the news of one of my previous bosses (and sports nut) Peter Hutton joining Facebook. Someone who clearly understands where ‘TV’ is going.”

This personal statement has some value since it is indicative of the change in the market, in the culture of watching TV, and of the major stakeholders. Not to mention that a year back Fares Akkad, previously Head of Distribution and Digital Business Development at Middle East Broadcast Corp MBC, joined Facebook as Head of Media Partnerships in the Middle East. The viewpoint of the satellite operator to this change is different as their markets (the 93% sat reception), are still in good shape – for now. Will we see a disruptive change in the near future in the Middle East? I don’t think so. But we have to be aware that the linear TV market will see changes.

The other well received forum was the GVF HUB Summit. Many important and industry-driving topics, such as regulation, spectrum, innovation, antenna technology, Ultra High Throughput Satellites (HTS), the impact of 5G and others were discussed. It is also worth mentioning that the final panel was on the topic of space debris where Ian Christensen of the Secure World Foundation and Khaled Al Hashmi of the UAE Space Agency discussed this very important topic with an interested audience.

Martin Jarrold

The Chief of International Programme Development with the GVF, Martin Jarrold, commented that this year’s Hub Summit was the latest example of the “Dubai World Trade Centre and GVF continuing partnership to provide a programme of strategic debate on key issues for the current satellite industry technology and service marketplace, embedded within the CABSAT exhibition environment. It was introduced to bring important content and keen industry debate to the CABSAT exhibition in 2015, and had an already three-year proven track record in attracting exhibition attendees to join solutions provider and solutions user dialogues. For 2018, the satellite programme was again extended, with the two programmes – the Conference and the Hub Summit – bringing an enhanced value-added experience for CABSAT exhibition attendees.” Mr Jarrold continued, “We were additionally very pleased to again have the first day of the Hub Summit featuring keynote addresses from the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and from the ITU Space Services Coordination Division.”

Post about the final panel

So, let’s wrap up CabSat 2018.  In my opening statement for the Satellite Communications Conference I said: “2018 will be a good year for the satellite market”. However, I have to say that, after the show I have to rethink that statement so my revision would be: “I hope that 2018 will be a good year for the satellite market”.

The satellite broadcast sector has always been the bread and butter of the satellite industry. We know that nothing does multi-casting like satellite. We are aware that nothing else has the unique reach of satellite. However, as I paced the show floor at CabSat, I felt that, despite the burgeoning statistics that are coming out about the amount of channels carried by satellite operators, there is something missing. I ask myself whether the satellite broadcast sector needs invigoration and perhaps even reinvention. The region is lagging behind in its adoption of HD, for example. Is it ready? When we look at the rest of the satellite industry we see a transformative period where High Throughput Satellites have the potential to make it into the mainstream as a communications technology. No longer niche, but highly relevant and necessary. Do we honestly see this happening in broadcast?

Yes, the broadcast side of the industry has the business. It has the channels, but there are other technologies encroaching on what has long been satellite’s staple. Staying relevant in today’s technology jigsaw is its main priority. Perhaps the show organisers need to inject new life into an event that has sadly become stale for many visitors that turn up year on year.

Quo Vadis satellite broadcast market in the Middle East? Quo Vadis CabSat 2019?

Torsten Kriening is the Chief Operating Officer of ThorGroup GmbH.

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