Asia market gets a plug

Topper Choi forecasts regional growth at tube confab

With a greater cash flow than all the Hollywood studios and pay TV operators combined, the mobile phone companies of Southeast Asia have the potential to make huge strides in the entertainment biz.

And there is plenty of money to be made in conventional pay TV, too.

That was the case argued Thursday by Tom Choi, CEO of Hong Kong-based satellite owner Asia Broadcast Satellite, as to why multinational media congloms should not overlook the region.

Speaking at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia pay TV confab here, Choi asked delegates to imagine a continent “Casbia” consisting largely of Asia but stripped of Japan and without the sexy growth areas of China and India.

Remaining area already has an economic growth rate of 6% and is on course to overtake Japan’s gross domestic product within 10 years. It has 150 million mobile phone subscribers and could see pay TV subscriptions rise to over 25 million homes within a decade.

“Southeast Asia is where India was 10 years ago, and you only need to look at companies like (News Corp.’s) Star TV to see the advantage of getting in at the ground floor,” Choi said.

With prices set way too high, the rise of pay TV in the region has failed to match GDP growth. But Choi argued that could be about to change in many places.

Local Indonesian companies failed to do the job of launching pay TV but may now see Astro All Asia Networks of Malaysia take their place.

In Thailand a pirate market was allowed to develop, but some of the illegal operators are trying to go straight.

Choi forecast that the Vietnam government will launch a Vivasat bird in 2009; as for the Philippines, he predicted that EchoStar and Philippines Long Distance Telephone Co. could soon both launch satellite TV services.

His own company, ABS, which operates a former Lockheed-owned satellite parked over the Indian Ocean, will launch a free-to-view Southeast Asia service with more than 60 channels modeled on Blighty’s Freeview.

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