Channeling optimism

Asian TV execs eye uptick and convergence

HONG KONG — Optimism is creeping back onto the agenda at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia (Casbaa) conference and exhibition, which runs here through Friday.

Two and a half years after the bottom fell out of many Asian economies, Casbaa participants are talking guardedly about recoveries in their countries.

And when they’re not cheering the end of recession, conference-goers are crowing about convergence. From keynote speaker Michael Bloomberg, founder of the business-news network, to struggling state-controlled media outlets, participants are rushing to link television with the Internet.

“Extend your brand name online now,” exhorted Paul Meyers, chief operating officer of Singapore-based Tricast, who forecasts $1.5 billion in online ad sales by 2001 in Asia, excluding Japan.

Upward signs

The conference, now in its sixth year, comes amid widespread positive economic indicators. Year-on-year, third-quarter GDP figures show positive growth in Hong Kong (4.5%), Taiwan (5.1%), Malaysia (8.1%), Singapore (6.7%) and South Korea (12.3%).

The crash was “significant and severe, but not terminal,” said Woo Siew Chuen of Malaysia’s 3-year-old direct-to-home Astro platform.

“When we started, we had great plans to raise capital and expand,” Woo said. Instead, Astro cut its staff by 20% and renegotiated every contract, lease and payment to keep itself afloat during the bloodbath. Woo said the break-even point of 500,000 subscribers had to be raised to 750,000 due to the collapse of the local currency.

Selling subs

Woo said the good news is that competitors have also been hurt and there’s now little likelihood of new entrants to the market. Goal now is to grow from the current base of 300,000 subscribers to 1 million by 2002. Astro has also decided to introduce high-speed Internet access to entice more customers.

Dicky Iskandar, president of Indonesian satcaster Indovision, said increasing the number of subscribers at his 4-year-old company has been “almost impossible,” but draws optimism from the recent changes in government.

“Indonesia was hit the most by the financial crisis,” Iskandar said, citing the collapsed banking industry and wildly depreciated local currency. He also acknowledged the impact of political and human-rights crises that forced the 207-million-strong country into headlines around the world.

Now, even as economists expect Indonesia’s economic growth to remain flat this year, Iskandar said at least the new government is “a break from the past” and sees “law enforcement as fundamental,” which should usher in more stability.

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