Asia media earnings to touch $60 billion in 2005-2006

MUMBAI: Despite softening regional economic growth, Asia media earnings are likely to remain robust over the next year. These are the findings put out in a new study by research & publishing firm Media Partners Asia (MPA).

MPA believes that the Asian media and communications industry will be driven by a forecast 4.3 per cent growth in advertising, continued growth in media consumption and, in some cases, cost savings and restructuring.

According to MPA forecasts, based on a universe of more than 65 media owners in the region, Asia media turnover could grow by 9 per cent year on year in FY 2005 to $ 59.7 billion while EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) could increase by 15 per cent to reach more than $ 9.1 billion, a 15 per cent margin.

Excluding Japan and Australia, MPA research indicates that media turnover in Asia could grow by 13 per cent in FY 2005 to reach $11.4 billion while EBITDA is forecast at over $3.4 billion, 20 per cent year on year growth.

MPA estimates that pay TV will be on a growth track in the Asian region this year. Major broadband cable and satellite/pay TV distributors (public and privately-held) could see turnover grow by 15 per cent year on year to more than $7 billion with EBITDA increasing 19 per cent year on year to reach almost $1.9 billion (26 per cent margin).

As far as different Asian regions are concerned, C&S broadcasters are still growing rapidly; the online industry is booming and MPA expects that publishers will make modest gains.

In terms of revenue, News Corp.'s Star Group leads MPA's subset of C&S broadcasters with forecasts indicating that the company's EBITDA could reach $109 million for its FY 2005 (year ending June 2005) period with turnover growing 16 per cent year on year to $475 million.

Hong Kong's TVB, MPA expects, will continue to benefit from a robust HK ad market, domestic ratings strength (as seen with the recent success of its Korean drama Jewel in the Palace) and its exposure to the Greater China market with cable/pay TV channels in Taiwan, the Mainland and Hong Kong. This should help offset losses from its 49 per cent owned Galaxy pay TV venture in Hong Kong. According to MPA, TVB turnover would grow by 7 per cent year on year in FY 2005 (year ending December 2005) to reach $532 million with EBITDA increasing by 14 per cent to reach $195 million, representing a 37 per cent margin.

Korea's On Media remains a growing C&S star - the company has both programming and distribution assets though its program operations (multiple PPs including the top rated C&S channels - animation and movies) remain the most significant in terms of growth and cash generation. The company is inevitably a prime beneficiary of double digit domestic C&S advertising growth (in contrast to terrestrial TV ad spend contraction), greater C&S ad market share, higher ratings and 85 per cent C&S penetration. MPA forecasts indicate that, on a consolidated basis, On Media's cable program and distribution assets will see turnover grow by 25 per cent in FY 2005 (year ending December 2005) to $264 million, in aggregate, while EBITDA could increase by 51 per cent year on year to $111 million, a 42 per cent margin.

Asian online media owners are expected to see a 37 per cent year on year growth in FY 2005 turnover ($2.6 billion) with EBITDA at $1.25 billion (48 per cent margin, 33 per cent year on year growth). Major drivers include Yahoo! Japan (revenue, +43 per cent; EBITDA, +34 per cent) and China's online gamers Shanda Interactive (revenue, +66 per cent; EBITDA, +52 per cent) and Netease (revenue, +54 per cent; EBITDA, +67 per cent).

The leaders in pay TV growth include Japanese cable MSO Jupiter Telecommunications (J:COM) and Malaysian DTH platform Astro All Asia Networks, followed by a clutch of profitable companies including Korea's leading cable majors (Taekwang, CJ Cable and C&M); Austar in Australia; the heavily regulated but profitable Taiwan cable MSOs (Eastern Multimedia, China Network Systems and Taiwan Broadband); Singapore's StarHub; and UBC in Thailand.

Liberty Media-controlled J:COM remains the ultimate consolidator of Japan's fragmented and under penetrated multi-channel pay TV market. It is also an impressive architect of triple play broadband services (1.8 mil. sub HH) with the onus now on generating growth from further acquisition; digital video (approaching 350,000 subs, only a year after launch), VOD and DVR services; IP telephony (in addition to current circuit switched offerings); and in the future, mobile telephony (popularising the cable craze for the quadruple play, as seen in the US). MPA forecasts that J-COM's EBITDA growth at 18 per cent in FY 2005 (year ending December 2005), implying $681 million, a 40 per cent margin on a turnover of almost $1.7 billion. (+15 per cent year on year).

In Korea, CJ Cable (1.29 million subscribers), could also emerge as a heavyweight. Aggressively managed, the company is rapidly acquiring systems and earlier this year launched Korea's first meaningful digital cable platform. Last month, the company also attracted $160 million in funds from a group of foreign investors. Going forward, the company is looking to grow its franchise to more than 2.5 million subscribers. MPA expects its turnover to grow by 26 per cent year on year in FY 2005 (year ending December 2005) to $140 million with EBITDA at $66 million (29 per cent year on year growth), a 47 per cent margin.

Australia's Foxtel, MPA estimates, will see turnover grow by 21 per cent to $700 million during its FY 2005 (year ending June 2005) period, driven by its digital rollout and PVR launch. Foxtel's EBITDA losses could reduce by 41 per cent to $49 million. SkyLife in Korea has seen further acceleration in digital satellite sub growth this year due to its access to terrestrial retransmission. SkyLife turnover, MPA estimates, will grow by 43 per cent to $330 million though EBITDA losses will remain heavy, at $76 million (down, however, 23 per cent from $99 million in FY 2004). Hong Kong's i-Cable will likely see earnings impacted by high programming costs (on account of intense competition, led by IPTV incumbent PCCW) with EBITDA forecast to come in at $104 million, down 2 per cent year on year.

MPA also believes that moderating advertising growth will impact revenue gains for the region's major free-to-air (FTA) terrestrial broadcasters, though major cable and satellite (C&S) broadcasters (India, Korea, Taiwan) will continue to grow rapidly (and, in some instances, outperform the market). MPA projections indicate that the major regional FTA and C&S broadcasters will see revenue grow by 9 per cent year on year almost $21 billion, in aggregate, with EBITDA in excess of $3.3 billion (10 per cent year on year growth), implying a 16 per cent margin.

In Japan, a forecast slowdown in spot advertising during FY 2005 (year ending March 2006) to 3 per cent (versus 9 per cent in FY 2004) will impact revenue and earnings growth for commercial broadcasters with only Fuji TV, TV Asahi and TV Tokyo likely to see robust double digit revenue and earnings growth.

Meanwhile, Asia's leading publishers are expected to grow revenue by a modest 5 per cent in FY 2005 ($3.2 billion) though EBITDA will grow a healthy 10 per cent to almost $950 million (30 per cent margin). Fairfax (Australia), Next Media (Hong Kong and Taiwan), SPH (Singapore) and Beijing Media Corp. will see an average of 4 per cent -7 per cent year on year growth in revenue during FY 2005 (amid lower ad market growth).

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