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Showtime v Orbit

Showtime, Orbit, TV

In the Middle East’s crowded and unique TV scene (nowhere else in the world could you find over 300 free-to-air channels), the battle is raging between pay-TV networks. The competition is intense for subscribers, shows and coverage rights - with poaching the daily rule - and all for a market that is, at best, 5% of the total TV viewing public.

The battle is not so much for the now, but for the tomorrow. A 2006 report by Booz Allen Hamilton says the pay-TV market will grow to 16-24% by 2015.

Showtime Arabia is one of the main players in this arena with an average 17 percent marketshare and 175,000 subscribers in 2006. The network, incorporated in the Cayman Islands in 1996, is owned by Gulf DTH, a joint venture of the Kuwait Projects Company holding (KIPCO) (80 percent) and US media conglomerate Viacom Inc (20 percent), and has its headquarters at Dubai Media City.

Orbit Satellite Television and Radio Network was established in 1995 in the British Virgin Islands by the same team that was in charge of Star TV in Hong Kong, and is financed by the Saudi Mawared Group. Originally based in Rome, the programmer moved its headquarters to Bahrain in 2005 and posts a 16 percent marketshare with 159,000 subscribers in 2006.

But the average subscription dividend per-head is of $19 for Orbit against $50 for Showtime, which makes the latter the indisputable market leader with annual revenues reaching $105 million. And since 2007 (following the arrival of its new President and CEO Marc-Antoine d’Halluin and with a $100 million syndicated loan facility from Qatar Commercial Bank, to replace existing finances and borrowings), Showtime seems ready to take on anybody.


Since a major restructuring of its programme packages in April 2007, Showtime has revamped its 21 premium channels, dividing them into four key brands: six Showcinema channels (with content from Paramount, Dreamworks, Sony Columbia, Universal, Disney and local studios), five genre-based Showmovies channels, four Showsports channels and six Showseries channels (broadcasting popular TV shows and series such as Desperate Housewives, Lost, Prison Break, Heroes, 24, etc.). A selection of over 51 channels of predominantly Western television entertainment (including global brands like Disney Channel, Discovery, MTV, CNN, CNBC and BBC) complements the bouquet.

Orbit carries a total of 48 television channels in five different channel packages, including seven movie, four sports, nine entertainment, four documentary, five kids, five news, three music and three Filipino channels. The Manama based bouquet includes various western channels such as Super Comedy, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, America Plus, Super Movies, BBC prime, Discovery Channel, CNN, ESPN Sports and signed in April 2006 a three years agreement with Warner Bros International Television Distribution for exclusive screening rights for top films, chat shows and series (Sopranos, Nip/Tuck, Smallville, ER, etc.).

But these selections are constantly moving as program and channel poaching is fairly common: in January, Showtime lost Discovery Channel to its rival Orbit and in return, Orbit lost Sky News to Showtime.


Showtime first positioned itself on Western programming made for the Middle East, enjoying the competitive advantage of repackaging the productions of Viacom (parent company of MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, UPN, CMT, and others). The network also inked prestigious deals for major sports events coverage, namely the exclusive rights to air the English football Premier League in English and Arabic for the next three years across the whole of MENA. This agreement aims not only at retaining existing subscribers but also at attracting a broader segment of young, male and wealthy viewers (and alongside top tier advertisers). Moreover, Showtime plans to increase its Arab base by producing more Arabic language content, and started carrying Arabic ‘infotainment’ channel Al Aan, aimed at a young female audience.

This move should directly impact on Orbit that focuses on the in-between segment. Orbit first aimed at providing a vast selection of Arab-friendly entertainment and information in English and Arabic to a small, well-traveled, bilingual and well-off elite (including previously overlooked expatriates residing in the Gulf region). But in 2004, the Manama-based network launched its first dedicated Western entertainment package. In 2006, Orbit further diversified its programming sources through a three-year partnership with Warner Bros International Television Distribution and boosted its Pinoy Plus package, which targets Filipino audiences. In parallel, the network initiated an expansion strategy, first in the USA through the DirectTV platform of Arabic TV programmes, then in Europe with Eutelsat Germany with plans to expand service into other Asian countries and Canada.

Along with programs, differentiation also shows on the advanced technological level: Orbit spearheaded regional HD deployment by launching two HD channels in 2007. In the meantime, Showtime launched in August the first video on demand service via satellite in the region, through its digital video recorder Showbox DVR, which incorporates a hard disk and an integrated on-screen TV guide in English and Arabic.


A few years ago, Orbit - that received the Superbrands Award in 2002 - launched a ‘First-see TV’ campaign to focus viewers’ attention on the exclusivity and quality associated with its brand. But the network’s editing policy of its program in order not to upset any Arab parties with content that may seem offensive, drew criticism from western channels such as BBC that decided to part company. Reversely, Showtime developed a ‘See it all, see it first’ strategy, in reference to the fact that movies and programs are uncensored and air up to a year earlier than on free-to-air. In April 2007, Showtime relaunched with new grids and logo, and got involved in various charity works such as last Ramadan’s humanitarian campaign, endorsed by Queen Rania Al Abdullah, in association with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).


Both networks are available through a vast array of resellers, or by on-line subscription. E-payment is widely developing, following the 490 percent growth of Internet users in the Middle East between 2000 and 2007. So it’s not surprising that since last June, Showtime is using the MasterCard Internet Gateway Service (MiGS) of Mashreq Bank to provide a secure online payment service for its customers. This enhancement also includes an online subscription service. Showtime also signed last September a dealer agreement with Saudi national sales & marketing agency Lingo that became its largest authorized dealer within the KSA through its network of service centers.


Regarding subscription fees, there’s clearly a gap between Showtime, which may be accused of costing a leg, and Orbit which is more mid-priced.

Orbit’s Super Mega package costs a monthly $51.5 for 45 channels (including free installation, 24-hour unique pay-per-view TV service, two-level parental control, bilingual electronic program guide, 20 radio channels of music & news and Arabic subtitles and multi-lingual audio on selected channels). Showtime’s Platinum Package costs $80 for 37 channels (including Showbox and guide, second room viewing, video on demand, Platinum privileged card and a dedicated hotline). Orbit’s other four packages range from a monthly $16.5 (Kid’s with 14 channels) to $40.5 (Super Prime with 37 channels), while Showtime’s three other packages range from a monthly $47.5 (Family and Movies with 30 and 31 channels) to $60 (Premier package with 37 channels without hardware).


1 Comment

  1. abdulazeez on November 21, 2009 7:27 pm

    pls i am interested to watch orbit/showtime in nigeria, how can i get the smartcard and subscription detail. thanks


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