OSN launched the first HD cricket channel in the Middle East region on 1 October - OSN Sports Cricket HD. The channel was formerly known as CricOne and was taken over by OSN when it acquired Pehla Media & Entertainment in August.
Appealing strongly to the expat South Asian popultion in the region, OSN Sports Cricket HD will cover a number of major cricket tournaments, including the Indian Premier League (IPL), forthcoming home international matches involving India, New Zealand and Australia and the ICC Championships.
With the addition of OSN Sports Cricket HD channel the Dubai-based operator reaches 37 HD channels. 5 out of these 37 channels offer sports-related content (OSN Sports 1 HD, OSN Sports 2 HD, Outdoor Channel HD, Motorvision HD and the new cricket channel).
OSN Sports Cricket HD channel will be available on the operator's OTT platform, OSN Play. OSN Play is available on PCs, tablets, games consoles and smartphones with 3G and 4G capabilities (supporting iOS and Android).
OSN's strategy for remaining the dominant satellite pay TV operator in MENA, as the only one offering a rich variety of content, is centred on the provision of HD channels. In the whole MENA region, an area that so far has shown a reluctance to adopt pay TV, OSN has steadily increased its portfolio of HD channels. The Dubai-based operator is offering 37 HD channels in total, on its premium Platinum Extra HD package, which currently constitutes the largest HD channel offer in a single package by any MENA operator. Even IPTV operators in the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia which re-sell the satellite operators' content do not currently offer a single package comprising as many HD channels. The other satellite pay TV operators like Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi Media focus on primarily thematic offerings (sports channels carrying predominantly international soccer competitions) and they are offering a considerably smaller number of HD channels (19 in total for the Abu Dhabi Media Gold Special package and seven in total for Al Jazeera Sports).
The MENA region is experiencing exponential growth in the number of HD channels. In 2009, only two HD channels were offered, but recent IHS MENA Intelligence data shows that TV households in countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain can have access to 135 HD channels (boosted by IPTV prodivders in the Gulf States). In other Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon and Tunisia there are slightly fewer HD channels - 126. IHS MENA Intelligence forecasts that this trend is likely to continue unabated in the near future and the HD content offer could reach 200 channels between 2015 and 2016.
In the Middle East the majority of sports HD channels are encrypted, but a considerable number of HD sports channels is offered for free. Currently in MENA a total of 32 sports HD channels are offered and around 13 of them are free-to-air. The MENA region seems to be at a starting point in terms of monetising HD channels compared to other regions of the world. Even OSN offers HD channels in all of its 15 packages bar the most basic one.
There many reasons fior the shortage of pay HD channels: a large number of HD channels in the region are owned by public or government-funded broadcasters, and people in the Middle East are traditionally reluctant to commit to a monthly payment method. In addition, penetration of HD MPEG-4 set-top boxes is low (IHS MENA Intelligence indicates that with the exception of the UAE, HD MPEG-4 set-top boxes in the Arab countries will not exceed a three per cent penetration rate till 2017) and finally the high cost of satellite capacity slots for HD channels (satellite capacity is charged per each Mbit used for transmitting a channel and as HD channels normally need 10 Mbits and each Mbit costs around $100,000 then the total annual cost can reach $1m, a rather high figure for some commercial broadcasters in the region).