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SBS ramps up for the digital age

Plans include launch of trio of channels

AMSTERDAM — SBS Broadcasting’s American founder and topper Harry Evans Sloan is pushing his Euro TV group into the digital age.

He has unveiled plans to launch a trio of digital channels plus high-def and video-on-demand, latter two in the Nordic territories. More pay channels may be coming this year. SBS operates in Belgium (Flanders), Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania and Sweden.

Sloan, now executive board chairman, and CEO-prexy Marcus Tellenbach outlined the strategy for the 15-year-old group at a March 9 press conference.

SBS plans to cater to all platforms as Europe continues to migrate from analog to digital, expected to be complete by 2008.

“We will provide the content and brand support and let the platform owners — digital terrestrial, satellite — whatever, worry about the rest,” Tellenbach says.

SBS’ recent $360 million acquisition of digital paybox C More — which includes the old Canal Plus Nordic bundle of pay channels — has been given the greenlight by regulators. It’s available on all platforms except Viasat satellite, run by SBS’ rival Modern Times Group.

C More has allowed SBS to make the move to digital, an important step in territories where the analog signal will be turned off within a few short years. It is also being used as the model for the launch of payboxes in other SBS territories.

SBS and C More have output deals with the major studios, some of them stretching to 2010, that will feed the services.

C More has already launched betting and gambling channels, 3G mobile phone services offering mainly sports content, and subscription VOD in the Nordic territories.

C More, as SBS’s pay arm, will launch VOD on April 1 and an HDTV channel in September, both in Sweden, and expand its paybox channels already up and running into other SBS territories as early as mid-April. The VOD service will unspool in the other nordic territories in 2006.VOD and HDTV will bow in other territories when the technology and platforms become available.

SBS’ Dutch ops will launch 24-hour themed digital channels Do It Yourself and I Love, carrying hit TV series from the 1970s and ’80s, and entertainment info channel Veronica Vibes by the end of this year.

Tellenbach told Variety that Belgium could follow with I Love and Do It Yourself as soon as the territory launches digital, presently being held up by disagreements among cable outfits.

SBS plans to invest in more channels in Central and Eastern Europe. Sloan adds, however, that SBS will not, unlike its rival Modern Times Group, invest in Russia.

“The strategy is to invest in territories that will become, or already are, a member of the EU,” Sloan says. “We doubt Russia will fall into that category.”

In the meantime, Sloan says the analog turnoff will boost SBS’ bottom line.

“It gives us the opportunity to double our TV revs,” he adds, noting SBS future revs will come from traditional advertising, subscriber fees from digital rebroadcast of SBS channels, and ad revs from sponsorship and other sources on digital channels.

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