Digital cable on slow boat to China

Premium pay channels still not on-air

SHANGHAI — Chinese broadcasters’ plans to go digital have suffered a set-back as new figures show digital cable ended 2003 with just 201,000 subscribers, way behind the 1 million target.

In April, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television announced that it was aiming for 30 million digital-cable and pay TV subscribers by 2005. At that point, there were just 90,000 digital cable subscribers, and pay TV had yet to start.

Digital cable is one element of the digitalization of Chinese TV, which authorities hope to complete by 2010. Analog signals will be turned off in 2015.

Regular cable penetration is high in China, with 110 million of about 350 million TV homes cable-connected. Last year, officials announced the imminent launch of six premium cable channels — the start of China’s pay TV market — but those plans have so far not come to fruition.

Regionally, several of the new digital cable providers are underperforming. Shanghai Cable has signed only 10,000 customers since it launched digital in 2002.

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