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Op-ed | Yahlive’s success with Farsi diaspora is only the beginning

Yalive_Sami_Boustany_CEO

A community is commonly defined as a social grouping that shares something in common, such as norms, values, identity, and often a sense of place that is situated in a given geographical area. In the case of the Farsi community, the ‘geographic area’ of their community has expanded widely given the dispersion of Farsi speakers across international boundaries.

Despite this diaspora of native Farsi speakers, there remains a community driver in the form of Yahlive’s satellite broadcast channels, which binds this community close together whether they are based in the Middle East or across the Stans. There are an estimated  140 million Farsi speakers around the globe today, and since introducing commercial satellite broadcast television channels in 2011, Yahlive has gone on to establish a niche and reputation for being the glue that binds Farsi speakers across geographies together through the rich content it has made available, all  of it free-to-air.

Yahlive’s purpose for being is quite straightforward and permeates everything the company does; from establishing partnerships with broadcasters to communicating with viewers and understanding their requirements and preferences. Yahlive is in the business of serving communities, and with this overarching mission, has established itself as the premier satellite television broadcast platform for the Farsi-speaking community within a period of four short years.

40% increase in TV channels in 2015

The numbers speak for themselves. During the course of 2015, the number of dishes pointed towards 52.5 E and picking up Yahlive television broadcasts rose by 40% per cent. Over the same period, the number of channels added by the company grew by 40% per cent to over 200 at the end of the year.

“We have come a long way in five years,” recounts Yahlive Chief Executive Officer Sami Boustany. “It really has been a seminal experience on all dimensions of the industry. The more we have invested in and developed the Farsi satellite television market, the more we have learned about it, and identified how much more can still to be done in terms of the fantastic growth opportunities that still lie ahead.”

Boustany recalls how the initial stages of Yahlive’s market introduction were characterized by some reluctance and apprehension among broadcasters, who until that stage had only been exposed to a patchwork of well-established satellite providers that were not focused on a comprehensive strategy – targeting the different Farsi-speaking communities of the region.

“In the early days, we had to offer compelling incentives for broadcasters to come over to Yahlive because they really had no idea who we were and what we did and were very cautious about bringing their content to this new platform. This was not a particular concern of ours as the challenge of being a young satellite operator provided the necessary fuel and focus to strengthen our commitment to creating new regional satellite broadcasting markets. We were confident we would prove ourselves to be a long-term partner who could be trusted to ensure Farsi content was broadcast to as wide an audience as possible,” Boustany says.

In its relatively short history, Yahlive has gone on to fine-tune its platform and business model, gaining wide endorsement from viewers and broadcasters, and having gone on to introduce a series of market firsts.

“For instance, there were broadcasters who only had a presence online and on social media platforms. Our efforts in consolidating Farsi-language content on the Yahsat 1A satellite at 52.5E created a model by which over-the-top (OTT)-type channels were able to become satellite broadcasters, and together we have benefited from fresh new content being included on our platform,” explains Ammar Baranbo, Yahlive’s chief operating officer.

Yahlive has also been instrumental in offering on-the-ground technical assistance to partners in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where the company made it easier for broadcasters in Kabul and Erbil to uplink content via newly deployed state-of-the art teleports with playout capabilities that are jointly operated by our partners and us. Yahlive now replicates this streamlined model for communities in the Balkans and North Africa, where it has been ramping up its operational presence.

While there are obvious and numerous positives regarding Yahlive’s progress to date, the tragic reality is that the company’s main satellite coverage extends to a region that is blighted by political tensions and civil instability. Wars and economic downturns in the region have resulted in significant attrition in advertising budgets and as a result have impeded the growth of broadcasters. On the other hand, it is no exaggeration to say satellite television for the majority of communities in the region is one of the single best means of accessing local, regional and international infotainment.

“We do operate in a challenging macro environment, but this will never deter Yahlive from providing the best service possible to our viewers and broadcasters today and going forward,” says Boustany. “There are communities and markets that we expect will thrive in the near future, so we continue to forge deeper and stronger partnerships with our viewers and broadcasters across the region. We’re here for the long-term.”

Boustany continues, “As more markets in the region open up, there is likely to be greater economic activity, which would likely translate to a rise in advertising on broadcast channels. This would mean more robust financials for broadcasters, some of which will be re-invested into the development of better and more varied content, which would then have an impact on the positive viewing experience. This virtuous circle is to the benefit of the entire eco-system.”

Plans for a pay-TV model

Aside from the progress being achieved generating loyalty from its installed customer based, Yahlive is also committed to constantly improving the quality of its services from a technical perspective. Together with broadcasters, the company is spearheading initiatives to introduce of a pay-tv model as well as the offer of a greater number of television programs and channels in HD format.

“The decision regarding the introduction of a pay-tv model is for the broadcasters to make. We are happy to play the role of facilitator or incubator to that evolution. We have a supportive and constructive relationship with our broadcaster partners, and together I believe we’ll be able to introduce new service models at the desired time,” Boustany says.

Yahlive has been able to establish itself as a cornerstone to the development of a strong sustainable Farsi and Arabic hotspot in the sky, and is looking to further consolidate this position as it extends its reach into new markets such as the Balkans the Greater Arabic Maghreb and the Stans. The company also has intentions to add further capacity to its channels and maintain its growth trajectory into the future. The position of trust it has established as a community centre of sorts of the Farsi community is one Yahlive is determined to foster.


Sami Boustany is CEO of Yahlive, a satellite television venture serving the Middle East, Europe, North Africa, and South West Asia region.

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Op-ed | Yahlive’s success with Farsi diaspora is only the beginning

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