Asian cable confab plugs into tech issues

Taiwan to use video-on-demand to push digital platform

HONG KONG — Last week’s Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia (Casbaa) confab tackled technology and piracy issues.

Asia may be the land of cutting-edge pay TV technology, but execs at the confab made it clear how widely rollout varies depending on the territory.

Faizal Syed, chairman for Taiwan’s Eastern Multimedia Co., said Taiwan will use video-on-demand to push its digital platform, which has been slow to roll out. He added that the service won’t be for everyone because it will be priced at a premium.

Alex Arena, group chief financial officer for PCCW, which operates Hong Kong’s Now Broadband, sees a time when viewers could program which shows they want stored for them via a mobile phone or their computer. “This will be an important development,” he said.

High-definition television is still a ways off for most Asian territories.

“It’s wonderful, the quality is beautiful, but it isn’t realistic for Asia,” said David Butorac, chief operating officer for Malaysia’s Astro, who added that it will come eventually, but Astro has no current plans. Syed also has no plans for Taiwan.

Hong Kong, however, is a very affluent territory where most of the sets sold are HD-enabled, Arena said. The service Now Broadband is expected to roll out a small trial by Christmas this year and properly launch HD within the first half of 2006.

Piracy continues to plague the pay TV industry across Asia, however.

In its third annual piracy report, Casbaa and CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets reported the cost of pay TV piracy is projected to increase by 11% in 2005 to $1.06 billion. Figures were calculated through June of this year and compared with the same period last year.

Among the findings:

  • Total losses to the industry in India totaled $670 million, a 19% jump from 2004.

  • In Thailand, the cost of piracy is up by 15% to $160 million. There are nearly half a million legitimate subscribers and 1.2 million illegal subs.

  • The Philippines recorded a 16% rise in the cost of piracy to $81.7 million. “The Philippines is a basket case,” said Simon Dewhurst, director of investment banking and head of media and entertainment investment banking for CLSA, adding that the country demonstrates just about every kind of pay TV piracy there is.

  • Vietnam had a whopping 68% jump in piracy costs as the market continues to expand. “As the industry moves forward, so too does the cost of piracy,” Dewhurst said.

  • Malaysia saw a substantial drop in piracy: 45% to $2.7 million. This is in part due to industry and government collaboration, as well as leading paybox Astro’s efforts with new technologies.

  • Overall, the report estimated $155 million will be lost to government tax coffers in 2005 because of piracy.
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