Prospects good for C&S industry in Asia: Casbaa

MUMBAI: While in India there may be much uncertainty around how conditional access will affect business, for cable ops, satellite platform operators, equipment suppliers and content providers in the Asian region, things are looking up.

Information aggregated by the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (Casbaa) indicates that after up to a decade of investment, Asia's cable and satellite system operators and suppliers are reporting firmer numbers. And that is despite the uncertain economic climate that the region as a whole is confronting.

 In India, the jewel in Star's crown Star Plus led the group's contribution to the quarterly News Corp results. Star Group's ad revenues increased by 12 per cent from the corresponding period last year. This is worth noting because a recent report in a leading financial daily has said the Star India network is likely to witness around 18-19 per cent drop in its ad revenue in the July 2002-June 2003 financial year. The report says that while the Rupert Murdoch-owned company mopped up Rs 9 billion in ad sales during the last fiscal, it is likely to close the current year with Rs 7.250 billion approximately.

Which begs the question of where did the 12 per cent increase in ad revenues for the quarter (January to March) come from. It is highly unlikely to have come from Star India revenues as this was tthe period when a lot of ad spend was diverted towards the cricket World Cup. It could well be that while Star Plus certainly continues to contribute the lion's share of the group's ad revenues, income from the other channels and other regions are increasing.


Meanwhile, Star's associate network ESPN Star Sports Asia reported revenues of $34 million for the first quarter of the year compared to $30 million for last year's corresponding quarter. Revenues for the nine months to the end of March were $110 million compared to $92 million for the same period, the previous year.

As far as the introduction of CAS in four cities in the country is concerned Casbaa has noted that while it is facing implementation difficulties, the initiative demonstrates a clear determination on the part of all parties push the industry to the next stage of its development.

This is some of the information that Casbaa has provided about the rest of Asia:

In China, MTV Networks has been granted 24-hour landing rights for MTV and Nickelodeon in Guangdong Province. In a separate agreement, Nickelodeon will co-produce and distribute Chinese language Nickelodeon television series on DVD/VCD with Shanghai Audio & Video Press (SAVP). MTV China has been available as a 24-hour channel in hotels and foreign compounds since 1995, while MTV branded programming airs on terrestrial and cable channels across China, reaching 70 million TV households. Nickelodeon branded programming is currently seen via terrestrial and cable channels reaching 50 million TV households in China.

CNBC Asia-Pacific has meanwhile, inked a strategic partnership agreement with the Shanghai Media Group (SMG) which has been approved by China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) with the support of relevant Shanghai government departments.

In the past month, Singapore-based Channel NewsAsia, a division of Media Corp News, saw its SARS-related specials draw more than 1.4 million Singapore viewers, aged 15 and above. This pushed Channel NewsAsia's average daily reach in April for these viewers to 24%, the highest recorded in the past year.

In Hong Kong I-Cable Communications has signed 10,000 new cable subscribers in the first three months of the year, taking its total subscriber base to 620,000 with a target of 650,000 by year-end. I-Cable also has 250,000 broadband subscribers.

EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation) for 2002 was $80.6m million with an operating profit of $42.6 million. In 2002, I-Cable's subscriber based rose by 8 per cent. I-Cable, meanwhile, has announced a new carriage agreement in China for its Horizon entertainment and cultural channel in three-star and above hotels and foreign compounds via the SinoSat platform.

ADSL-based video-on-demand platform operator Yes Television continues to sign new content deals recently adding a Playboy adult service to its line-up alongside channel NewsAsia, The Soundtrack Channel and soccer service MUTV (Manchester United Television). Yes has also announced a deal to deliver content to broadband companies Hutchison Global Communications and Powercom..

In Japan, satellite platform operator SkyPerfect TV reports that it will move into profit next year and now has 3.4 million subscribers (with 3 million DTH subscribers). it claims to have exceeded its break even point with taxable profits set to begin rolling next March. .

Cable op Jupiter Telecommunications (J-Com Broadband) increased its subscriber base by 271,000 to 1.6 million subscribers as of the end of March, an increase of 20 per cent over the previous 12 months. Liberty Media holds a 45.2 per cent stake in the company

In Singapore StarHub CableVision has announced that it had attracted 362,000 cable subscribers as of the end of April along with 110,000 cable modem subscribers. StarHub says it should hit the 400,000 subscriber mark by the end of this year.

In Malaysia, the news is also positive with local DTH platform operator Astro, which is controlled by Measat Broadcast Network Systems (MBNS), announcing that it now has one million subscribers for its package of 40+ television channels. The announcement that Astro has broken the one million subscriber barrier comes shortly after Binariang Satellite Systems and Boeing Satellite Systems, announced a $200 million+ agreement for the procurement of a Boeing 601HP satellite designated Measat-3.

It will be co-located with Measat-1 at 91.5 degrees East. Scheduled for launch in a couple of years from now, Measat-3 will carry 24 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders, each providing 36 MHz of bandwidth over a 15-year minimum service life..

In Indonesia, cable op KabelVision has revealed plans to launch a DTH platform in the final quarter of this year from the Palapa C satellite. Within a year's time the platform could be distributing up to 35 channels.

In the past month, Singapore-based Channel NewsAsia, a division of Media Corp News, saw its SARS-related specials draw more than 1.4 million Singapore viewers 15+. This pushed Channel NewsAsia's average daily reach in April for these viewers to 24 per cent, the highest recorded in the past year.

Says Casbaa chairman Marcel Fenez, "Despite the uncertain economic climate there is plenty of good news out there. This year we have seen cable operators and satellite platform providers ramping up the subscriber base and continuing their strong moves into profit; the pay-TV channels, too, are reporting increased penetration and healthy revenues as they either consolidate years of hard work or launch new services. And the broadband penetration figures continue to rise inexorably."

Regulatory Environment:

"We also see distinct improvements in the regulatory environment in markets such as India, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, although plenty of work remains to be done," said Fenez.

On the regulatory front, in Singapore the lead-in to awarding at least one new pay-TV operator license continues, with the Media Development Authority consulting a wide range of interests including those of Casbss and its member companies. Issues under discussion are content controls and intellectual property issues.

On the anti-piracy front, in Hong Kong, the government has tabled new legislation to criminalise the distribution of unauthorised pay-TV signals for commercial use, with penalties running to up to five years in gaol and up to HK$1 million fines. Also in Hong Kong, two of seven civil actions against defendants in private prosecutions for allegedly importing and trading in unlicensed satellite TV signal decoding equipment were settled in April. Five more cases remain to be resolved.

In Taiwan the draft Broadcasting Bill, recently tabled before the Legislative Yuan, firmly outlaws the practice of "Advertising Masking" in line with Casbaa representations made over the past two years. The Bill also starts to address the issues of tiering and the central role of the government information office, both long overdue initiatives.

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