Slow start for DirecTV Japan

Economic troubles deter subscribers

TOKYO — DirecTV Japan on Tuesday for the first time released the number of subscribers it has in Japan, saying it enlisted 109,000 customers to its service since it started up last December.

The company, which spent millions of dollars on an advertising campaign with Arnold Schwarzenegger, said Japan’s economic doldrums have impacted its subscriber numbers.

“The subscriber number is respectable given the hard economic situation in Japan,” chairman Gareth C.C. Chang said. He added that the company expects to see better numbers once the Japanese economy improves.

DirecTV is facing tough competition in Japan from the 171 channel Sky PerfecTV platform, which currently has about 672,000 subscribers.

Sky PerfecTV is aiming to attract 800,000 subscribers by the end of this year and it said it needs about 2 million subscribers before it can start operating in the black.

DirecTV’s Chang said his company has had trouble figuring out the Japanese market and it is also disappointed in the inability of its major backer, the Culture Convenience Club Tsutaya video rental chain, in enlisting subscribers.

“The Tsutaya store is not doing as well as we think. It has not come up to speed as we originally expected,” Chang said.

The primary stake-holders in DirecTV Japan are DirecTV Intl. Inc. and the Tsutaya video rental chain, which each have a 31.75% share.

Since its launch, DirecTV has sought new investors and the company has been in talks with Japanese networks about invest-ing in the platform. Japanese nets Fuji TV and TBS already hold stakes in Sky PerfecTV.

Chang would not set any subscriber targets for Japan, but did say the platform would expand from the current 88 channels to 130 channels in the fall.

He also said the Asian economic crisis has prevented DirecTV from setting up shop in places such as India and Indonesia.