Hollywood home cinema coming to Saudi Arabia

Intigral, which provides internet-based television, expects subscribers to the Saudi Telecom Company's TV service to quadruple next year.

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Internet TV subscriptions in Saudi Arabia are forecast to quadruple next year, boosted in part by a new home-cinema service showing Hollywood films.

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There are currently about 20,000 subscribers to the Saudi Telecom Company's (STC) internet protocol television (IPTV) service.

That is forecast to grow to up to 90,000 next year, according to Intigral, which operates STC's television service.

Karim Daoud, the chief executive of Intigral, said there had been a "very encouraging start" to the InVision TV service, which launched last year. "We're closing the year on target, in terms of reaching slightly more than 20,000 homes connected to the IPTV service," said Mr Daoud. "Next year we should be at anywhere from 70,000 to 90,000 subscribers."

STC's InVision is similar to broadband TV services provided by Etisalat and du in the UAE. Such services compete with satellite television, the dominant form of TV broadcasting in the Arab world.

Intigral acquires the rights to film and TV content and encodes it for delivery over IPTV, as well as via mobile devices and the Web. It also censors content according to its clients' instructions.

The company is a joint venture between STC, All Asia Networks and Saudi Research and Marketing Group.

Mr Daoud said Intigral had this year signed deals with four big Hollywood studios to show movies in Saudi Arabia at the same time they are released on DVD elsewhere in the region. Cinemas are banned in Saudi Arabia and the company says it is hoping to secure further rights, which would apply to films under cinema release, in the near future.

Customers will be able to watch the videos on a pay-per-view basis, said Mr Daoud.

"We're able to tap into this unique window, where the movie is available on the [IPTV] box at the same time it shows in theatres in the neighbouring GCC countries or in Egypt," he said.

"We have confirmed all the Hollywood studios. They're bringing on board the best of Hollywood entertainment, from Warner, Disney, Sony and Paramount. There's one more to go, which is Universal. But all the others are signed up."

He added Intigral was in "the final stages of concluding the deal" with Universal.

A similar movie service is already available for Arabic and independent films, and Mr Daoud said he hoped the Hollywood titles would be available "in the first half of next year". Intigral also provides mobile and Web-based TV services in Saudi Arabia, as well as mobile-TV in Bahrain and Kuwait.

It says it is in discussions with "various operators" in the region over similar services.

"We're not a [business to consumer] player. We always do it in partnership with the local telecoms operators," said Mr Daoud. "We provide white-label solutions."

Intigral has deals with local media companies to carry 150 standard-definition channels, including those owned by OSN, Al Jazeera, and Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns and publishes The National.

This article has been modified from the original which incorrectly stated Intigral had signed deals with four Hollywood studios to show movies in Saudi Arabia at the same time they are released in the cinema - rather than on DVD - elsewhere in the Gulf.