Total commitment to digital cabler

Service expanding to include shopping, PPV

TAIPEI — Taiwan’s first digital cabler has been declared a qualified success by its backers seven months after it bowed.

A joint venture between Rupert Murdoch-owned Star TV and the Koos Group, Total TV soft-launched in October and reaches 2,000 households in suburban Taipei.

It offers limited interactive services including personalized news, weather and traffic reports and hopes to expand its services by the end of the year to include home shopping and pay-per-view movies.

“In terms of product development, we’re very satisfied,” says Total TV chief operations officer Daniel Cheung.

However, Total TV must wean viewers off the relatively cheap cable rates, capped by government, and Cheung says Total TV will hold back on its premium services until these restrictions are lifted.

He voices the complaint many cablers have against the government’s stifling regulations. “Right now their attitude is that cable is a utility, like electricity or water, and that it should be regulated like one,” he says.

Taiwan’s Government Information Office raised the price cap that cablers can charge customers to roughly $24 per month earlier this year.

That rate, in Cheung’s opinion, still does not make it financially feasible for cablers to offer premium channels and other interactive services without devaluing their own product.

Total TV invested $21 million upgrading from analog to digital and creating support systems necessary to roll out Taiwan’s first digital platform. This will help prevent rampant pirating of cable lines and allow Total TV to create numerous programming tiers.

With 80% penetration, the cable TV market in Taiwan is one of the largest in Asia.

Cheung hopes Total TV will break even on its initial investment in five years. He believes a large and mostly untapped market for digital cable TV exists and that viewers are ready for premium channels.

“Our vision is that viewers will create demand once they are used to the concept of digital, interactive cable,” Cheung says. “This isn’t a revolution of the industry. It’s evolution.”

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