A New Kind of Television Dawns in the USA

July 9, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

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As Tracy Thompson-West explains it, Talfazat and its sister stations, TV-Desi, and Kylin TV, were born from the union of NeuLion (whose specialty is in IPTV), and JumpTV (whose specialty was Arabic programming).  Ms. West is the Chief Executive of International Business for NeuLion, Inc. The marriage has led to the birth of several discrete and independent television networks, serving discrete niche markets–the Arabic, Chinese, and Desi markets.

Like NeuLion and JumpTV, Ms. West has an impressive resume, having worked for 20 years in the US and European satellite industry–where she had a hand in building Dish’s industry leading collection of international channels.

IPTV is still a mystery to most American consumers–in fact IPTV television providers in this country are far behind their counterparts in Europe.

Even the television services that are available via IPTV are not defined as such–Netflix, AT&T’s U-verse (still with fewer than 100,000 customers), and now JumpTV and its subsidiaries–usually refer to themselves as sources of television, alternatives to satellite and cable. 

In Europe however, the largest IPTV service provider (France’s Iliad) had over 1,000,000 customers as of January of 2008.  Its nine closest competitors, none of whom are American, all have more than 100,000 customers each.

The Talfazat box is simply a set top box (STB) that plugs into the internet and your television.  It uses proprietary technology developed by NeuLion to transfer video signals through the internet to your TV, and is controlled by an ordinary remote control.

talfazat logo shadow The technology is impressive.  NeuLion provides professional business-to-business display of major sports.  The pedigree as listed by Ms. West is simply unimpeachable–NFL, NHL, AHL.  If those guys trust NeuLion, you know their product is top-of-the-line. 

The box that you install in your home speaks over the internet with NeuLion’s servers and accesses the content you want to watch.  It needs a connection, according to Ms. West, of only one Mbs, and a 2 Mbs DSL connection nowadays is pretty standard.  With upcoming improvements in the internet network in the United States, especially for Fiber optics (like Verizon FIOS, for example), speeds ten times as fast will become very standard. 

Talfazat offers about 30 Arabic channels, including as far as I can tell all of the ones offered by Dish Network–with perhaps the exception of Dubai Sports.  The news channels are all available, including Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera English, and Al-Arabiya.

control Kylin offers, according to Ms. West, about 40 channels of Chinese language content.

TV-Desi is offered in several discrete packages, each tailored to a particular language group.  Their are Hindi, Bangla, and Pakistan-focused channels.  The channel list includes some news channels however some of the major Bollywood blockbuster movie websites are still missing, although Ms. West of JumpTV indicated to me that JumpTV was working in the direction of making those channels available in the future.

Potential future pitfalls with the technology include the increasing rumors and movements of internet service providers towards limiting bandwidth.  This controversy, frowned on by major net presences like Google, businesses that benefit and in fact need people to access the internet freely, is known by the name “net neutrality” and is increasingly coming up in legislative debates at the federal level–although until now it is unclear whether the movements toward bandwidth caps by ISPs AT&T and Comcast will later be widely implemented.

Asked about this potential problem, Mr. Alyas Ali of Talfazat explained that one of his Canadian customers, whose ISP is Rogers, faced bandwidth overages (which come into effect after 60 gigabits) and was charged for them.  Yet the total maximum fee charged by Rogers for those overages, even when added to his Talfazat bill, is still less than what he would have to pay for Bell ExpressVu Arabic channels.

The Roku box may be the most similar single service.  Roku offers access to Netflix.  You pay $99 and your payments to Roku are finished forever, but you get to enjoy Netflix instant views as long as you have a subscription.

There are free online IPTV sources, but the most professional services that provide IPTV are formed as walled gardens.  Explains Alyas Ali of Talfazat, “We want to provide a clean product that people are willing to pay for.”

Similar services exist from other providers.  AT&T has launched their U-Verse plan, which offers roughly the same channels you would expect from Dish Network.  Unfortunately AT&T has done a really awful job of marketing U-Verse.  Nobody knows that it exists.  If people know about U-Verse, most of them think that it is actually AT&T’s satellite service through its partner (was Dish Network, now DirecTV). 

If you find out about U-Verse, you may not want to buy it because AT&T has priced it at the same level as Dish Network–which is already the most expensive satellite network and fast losing market share as a result.  What could they have been thinking? And on top of that AT&T is maintaining a partnership with their own competitor, DirecTV.

The wild web, however, has much to offer if you can winnow the wheat from the chaff.  Despite its many nonsense or bad-spirited or generally poor quality channels, many fun and interesting videos are available on Youtube.  Services providing free IPTV include Joost, Hulu, Justin.TV, ChannelChooser, and WWITV.  Of these, Hulu may be the most professional, although the focus of Hulu is more on mainstream American shows.  And it is possible to construct an imitation of the walled gardens but without losing the wild and free content–either by connecting a PC running Boxee (and thus indirectly also Hulu) or by hacking an AppleTV box to run Boxee (and thus Hulu).  Surely other hacks will emerge as time passes, but for now the $200 AppleTV (which you buy once and never again pay for) in connection with Boxee is the most cost effective means of accessing free IPTV content.

The price structure of Talfazat and her sisters is middle of the road–but by comparison with other services that are available it is at a fair market rate.  For $30 a month, you can have 30 Arabic channels piped into your house.  Compared to Dish Network this is pennies.  Compared to the freely available content via satellite perhaps it is a little bit expensive–but perhaps the difference in price is made up for in ease of access and professionalism of the end product.

Considering that the price for Dish Network’s foreign content is simply outrageous (on average you would have to pay about $15 for only one foreign channel on Dish), NeuLion is in a strong position to secure customers escaping from long contracts, or sometimes mediocre customer service, and perhaps will recapture some of the former pirates who have been chased away from Dish Network recently by its increasingly aggressive anti-piracy encryption.

DirecTV, Ms. West explained, has just cancelled all its Arabic channels–perhaps a concession to Dish Network, which in fact provides a very decent array of international programming.

The Indian channels available in a standard package from TV-Desi are rather minimal, only roughly four or five from each package–yet if you are from a foreign country and you have access to the four channels you used to watch at home that might be more than enough–especially when TV-Desi is poised to expand into other channels.

Another competitive point emphasized by Ms. West is the ease of installation.  The box is mailed to you, you unpack it, plug in an ethernet cord, a power cord, and turn it on, and you are in business.  Unlike a satellite or cable install, which might require you to stay home from work when “a satellite guy or a cable guy has to come into your house” and install it.

Talfazat and her sisters offer limited American channels–about 30 of the JV American channels including Fox News and Discovery, for a nominal fee.  They plan to expand their coverage in this area, as they do in their ethnic channel repertoire.

Customer service through Talfazat seems excellent.  In a brief call to explore the available service, I encountered excellent, knowledgeable and friendly customer service from an Arabic-speaking customer service representative.  This is a level of niche marketing that, even with some effort, Dish Network or your local cable company will be unlikely to find a willingness to compete with.

As far as quality of the picture, Talfazat is excellent.  Ms. West claims there is no buffering  if a customer has a pipe of 1 Mbs.  The box is HD-ready, although regional programming in HD is slim-to-none.  What looks like an S-Video jack in the back of the Talfazat box is actually a plug for a dongle that can accept HD-ready HDMI or component plugs to connect to your television. 

NeuLion did not discuss the potential impact of the higher quality picture on bandwidth, but presumably that will push them beyond their current 1Mbs. 

Presumably NeuLion are experts at providing HD content, since their expertise has been developed through years of servicing the sports leagues which thrive in large part based on their HD filming.

But the brilliance of the NeuLion team is not only in the quality and availability of their product, it is also in their clever marketing to an available niche, at a marketable price, through friendly customer service.

Note:  Talfazat is a valued advertiser in this newspaper.

11-29

Sarkozy Says Burqas Are Unwelcome in France

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susanna Ferreira and David Gauthier-Villars in Paris

President Nicolas Sarkozy took sides in a growing debate on the burqa, a head-to-toe garment that is worn by some Muslim women and that conceals their faces, saying it isn’t a religious symbol but “a sign of enslavement and debasement” of women.

“The burqa is not welcome on French territory,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.”

Mr. Sarkozy, who was addressing a joint session of the French Parliament at Versailles — the first French president to address the legislature in more than a century — also pledged further government investment to help the country out of its recession.

Almost halfway through his five-year term, Mr. Sarkozy is struggling to deliver on his electoral pledge to downsize the French state. Instead, his government is spending to try to boost the economy, which is expected to shrink 3% this year.

He told lawmakers he would sharply reduce the state’s “bad budget deficit,” but he also unveiled a government bond issue to finance industrial, education and cultural projects.

Mr. Sarkozy’s speech, delivered at the château of Versailles, signaled his growing domination of French government. He used a change he introduced last year in France’s constitution that allows the president to address lawmakers directly.

Opposition lawmakers called the address a “narcissistic exercise” and said it only served Mr. Sarkozy’s taste for pomp. They said the speech highlighted how Mr. Sarkozy has relegated Prime Minister François Fillon to a subordinate role.

Mr. Sarkozy said he endorsed holding a parliamentary inquiry to study the small, but apparently growing, phenomenon of women wearing the burqa on French streets. The move could be the first step toward an outright ban on the coverings.

This month, a group of 76 lawmakers called for France to ban the garment, which is often associated with the Salafi strain of Islam and is worn by only a small percentage of Muslim women. The lawmakers appealed for a parliamentary commission to study the issue.

Some Muslim lobby groups, however, have urged the French government to refrain from holding a public debate on the issue, saying it would stigmatize France’s Muslim community, Europe’s largest.

France has strict rules separating state and religion, including a 2004 law banning veils, crosses, and other religious symbols and dress from public schools and government buildings.

The French debate was spearheaded by André Gerin, a French lawmaker and mayor of Vénissieux, near Lyon. The veils are “a test for our civilization,” Mr. Gerin said in a telephone interview, adding that his goal is to “liberate these women.”

Mr. Sarkozy said that he won’t raise taxes and that it is time to make spending cuts. He proposed slashing the number of local-government representatives, and said he will decide by mid-2010 whether to raise the minimum retirement age, which stands at 60 years for most workers.

So far, Mr. Sarkozy has maintained his popularity despite the economic slump. Still, he has been forced to shelve some of his plans to slim down France’s state in order to promote a livelier, more prosperous economy.

The budget deficit is likely to shoot up to €140 billion ($194 billion) this year — 7.5% of gross domestic product compared with 3.4% in 2008. Tax revenues are falling because of the recession, and Mr. Sarkozy has spent public funds to prop up banks and struggling auto companies.

11-27

Muslim Sprinter Wins Olympic Sprint Dressed Head to Toe in a Hijab

August 28, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

2008-08-22T060349Z_01_OLYTS603_RTRMDNP_3_OLYMPICS-ATHLETICS Sprinters have long been squeezing their muscular frames into the most eye-wateringly skimpy, tight and revealing costumes imaginable. But one female athlete at this year’s Olympics is bucking the trend for bulging lycra and naked torsos.

In 2004, Bahrain’s Ruqaya Al Ghasara took part in the Olympics wearing hijab.

Al Ghasara won her heat of the women’s 200m sprint at the Bird’s Nest stadium – despite being clothed head to foot. Al Ghasara finished first followed by France’s Muriel Hurtis-Houairi and Sri Lanka’s Susanthika Jayasinghe.

Admittedly, Al Ghasara ‘s hijab is a rather sportier version of the traditional dress. Clinging to her body as she powers down the track the hijab completely covers her head, arms and legs.

Known as a Hijood – or hijab combined with a sports hood – the costume was specially designed for Al Ghasara by an Australian sports clothing company. It allows Muslim athletes to compete while still adhering to the strict modesty required of their faith.

Al Ghasara, who was the Bahrain flag-bearer at last week’s opening ceremony, said the Hijood has improved her performance. ‘It’s great to finally have a high performance outfit that allows me to combine my need for modesty with a design made from breathable, moisture-controlled fabric,” she said.

‘It’s definitely helped me to improve my times being able to wear something so comfortable and I’m sure it will help me to give my best performance at Beijing.
‘I hope that my wearing the hijood sports top will inspire other women to see that modesty or religious beliefs don’t have to be a barrier to participating in competitive sports.’

In 2004 Al Ghasara defied objections from fundamentalists in her village to take part in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, running in the 100 metres.? And in 2006 she won the women’s 200m final at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, making her the first Bahraini-born athlete to win a major international athletics gold medal.

2008-08-22T060349Z_01_OLYTS603_RTRMDNP_3_OLYMPICS-ATHLETICS

Roqaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain celebrates winning her women’s 200m heat of the athletics competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in the National Stadium August 19, 2008. Behind Al-Gassra are Oludamola Osayomi (L) of Nigeria and Aleksandra Fedoriva of Russia.     

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

10-36

“New Urgency” to Curb Iran

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

“New Urgency” to Curb Iran
By Christian Lowe
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it wanted to refrain from taking action before a U.N. deadline set for Tehran to halt uranium enrichment expired, but a top U.S. official believed other countries were inching toward action.
Tensions remained high, with oil prices hitting a new high above $73, partly driven by fears the dispute could disrupt shipments from the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter.
“What I heard in the room last night was not agreement on the specifics but to the general notion that Iran has to feel isolation and that there is a cost to what they are doing,” UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters.
“Now we need to go beyond that and agree on the specifics of what measures we need to put that into operation,” he said.
He said Iran’s shock announcement last week that it had enriched uranium to a low level and planned to produce it on an industrial scale had focused the minds of the international community.
The US and its European allies say Tehran could divert highly enriched uranium to make bombs.
“What is new is a greater sense of urgency given what the Iranians did last week … Nearly every country is considering some sort of sanctions and that is a new development. We heard last night and again today that all of those that spoke are looking at sanctions,” Burns said.
In a surprise development, an Iranian delegation appeared later in the day in Moscow for talks with officials from the EU3—Britain, France and Germany—although one European official said he did not expect a “breakthrough.”
The Security Council on March 29 gave Iran a month to halt enrichment and answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its nuclear program.
Russia and China, which both have veto power in the council, say they are not convinced sanctions would work. U.S. officials had hoped to use the talks to persuade them to take a tougher line on Iran, which it suspects of seeking nuclear weapons.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said some countries, including Russia, wanted to wait until the U.N. nuclear watchdog reports on Iranian compliance on April 28 before acting.
“We are convinced of the need to wait for the IAEA report due at the end of the month,” Lavrov told reporters.
An Iranian delegation headed to Moscow for talks on the dispute, Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki told state radio.
He said officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council would “discuss possible solutions which could pave the way to reach a comprehensive understanding based on a recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear technology.”
Iran says it only wants nuclear power for civilian use, but Russia said Tehran was not responding to international demands.
One diplomat from a country that opposes Iran’s nuclear work said Iran could suggest a “pause.”
“This is to prepare the ground for renewing negotiations with the Europeans,” the diplomat, said about the proposal. It was unclear how long the pause would be.
A senior EU3 diplomat said he would welcome Iran’s presentating such an initiative and halting their enrichment research. But it would have to be more than a brief technical pause in order for the Europeans to revive negotiations with Tehran.
Burns said Washington was opposed to allowing Iran any kind of pause, calling some of Iran’s negotiating positions “a ruse.”
Market worries that the nuclear crisis might disrupt Iranian oil exports pushed oil above $73 a barrel, a fresh record.
Tuesday’s meeting of deputy foreign ministers from Russia, China, the United States, Germany, France and Britain underlined international differences over punitive action against Iran.
All the powers have said they are determined to solve the problem through diplomatic means, but the US is alone among them in not ruling out military action.
Pres. Bush plans to raise the issue during PM Hu Jintao’s visit.

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