London -- Middle East digital satellite company Orbit
Satellite Television and Radio will move its headquarters from Tor Sapienza outside of
Rome to a new location in the Middle East -- probably Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
The surprise move comes as Italian tax authorities, known
as "fiscal police," are investigating the company's value-added-tax claims,
as well as the work permits and tax positions of employees working at the facility,
Orbit's president and CEO, Alexander Zilo, said.
The Orbit staff has been told that the company's
Arabic-language production operations will be switched to Cairo, Egypt; Beirut, Lebanon;
and other Middle East production centers, with an overall expansion in original output.
While detailed reasons have not been given for the move, Orbit's management expects
Middle East studios to offer significantly lower production costs and greater availability
of on-screen talent.
Operations, sales and marketing staff will relocate to the
Middle East, almost certainly Dubai, although Orbit's subscription management and
call center will continue to operate from Cyprus. The Rome facility, at least for the time
being, will continue to be used as a technical facility.
While the changes at Orbit are being carried out, the Arab
pay TV industry is again filled with speculation that Zilo will leave the company. Zilo
said the speculation is "groundless." However, he now has to work with a new
deputy, Ghassan Itani, placed into the position by Orbit's owners, Saudi Arabian
Prince Khalid Abdullah and his family.
Despite these uncertainties, Orbit last week announced
record audience figures for its programming. Orbit said it now has 180,000 "viewing
points" -- the company's term for residential subscribers, hotel rooms and
wireless distribution. This month marks Orbit's fourth anniversary, and Zilo says the
platform is still "the fastest-growing new entertainment service in the Middle
However, 180,000 "viewing points" is still less
than the 300,000 subscribers initially promised by the end of year three.