Sky, Galaxy increase LatAm satellite stakes

MIAMI — Stakes were raised in the multibillion-dollar battle between Latino satcasters Monday when Sky Latin America inaugurated a satellite uplink center here and rival Galaxy Latin America launched an extra bird.

Sky, which is backed by News Corp., Televisa, Globo and TCI Intl., bowed a $140 million uplink, said to be the world’s largest digital video broadcast facility and capable of beaming 250 video and audio channels to Latin America.

The site complements existing uplinks in Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, and replaces a temporary facility in Homestead, Fla. It will enable Sky at minimum to double its current programming offering.

Up the road at Cape Canaveral, and coinciding to the hour with the Sky event, GLA sent up its G-VIII satellite, which will give the Hughes-backed player channel capacity superior to Sky’s when the bird comes on line in early 1998.

As of Sept. 30, Sky had signed up 140,000 subscribers, while GLA counted 233,000 activated subscriptions and another 95,000 signed up but not yet paying.

However, News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch claimed that, thanks to more attractive programming, Sky is now outpacing GLA in terms of new signings.

“Even though we’re selling at a higher price than Galaxy, we’re outselling them,” Murdoch told Daily Variety. “People don’t buy a piece of equipment. What comes through the equipment is what makes them decide which way to go.”

But Murdoch conceded the quality and speed of decoder box production for Sky needed improvement. Sky’s boxes suffered from glitches in the first few months of operations and have been widely deemed less user-friendly than GLA’s models.

Through capital expenditure and debt offerings, Sky is committing around $1 billion to its rollout, while GLA expects to spend $850 million.

Murdoch said Sky, launched in October 1996, should reach break-even by the year 2000, with about 1.5 million subscribers; of those, a majority will likely be Brazilians. Adalberto Vianna, CEO of Sky’s Brazilian subsid NetSat, forecast a Brazil sign-up of 500,000 by the end of 1998 and 2.2 million in five years.

Sky sources added that their service would roll out in its third territory — Colombia — this week. GLA, which bowed in July 1996, is available in a dozen countries.

As well as expanding capacity to more than 300 channels, GLA’s G-VIII bird will allow for the new services such as Internet access and video games. It will also expand GLA’s coverage of the region’s remoter areas and increase signal resistance to climactic effects.

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