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Galaxy expands into pay TV. . . at last

Feevee hasn't unveiled pricing scheme for channels

HONG KONG — Galaxy Satellite Broadcasting will launch its new service, exTV, on Feb. 18 — six months late but with enough brouhaha to send a ripple throughout the Hong Kong pay TV market.

The paybox had difficulties coordinating content and dealt with some “shortfalls in the operations,” says chief exec Jim Blomfield, explaining the delay.

But Galaxy, the pay TV arm of Television Broadcasts (TVB) and U.S.-based partner Intelsat, has yet to reveal pricing for its 30-plus channels.

Reasearch company Media Partners Asia (MPA) believes the service will cost $19 per month — about half the cost of the incumbent i-Cable’s basic plan.

MPA research shows it will probably have 200,000 to 250,000 homes at its launch. MPA exec director Vivek Couto says that’s about 60% less than its original target, blaming the reduced estimates on access difficulties.

While this will give i-Cable some advantage in the short term, Galaxy will still be a threat to the 10-year old paybox.

With “the anticipated strength of its local pay TV content (news, drama, and kids entertainment from TVB) and rate discounts, Galaxy will still pressure i-Cable churn and average revenue per user,” says Couto.

TVB has committed to invest about $42 million in localized news, drama and entertainment.

At launch, exTV will offer five exclusive channels provided by parent TVB, including two popular Mandarin-lingo channels that will be available in Hong Kong for the first time.

It has exclusive deals with Celestial Movies, which houses the Shaw Brothers’ pics, and MATV, which will show the latest from Mei Ah’s film library.

It also will carry HBO, Cinemax, BBC World, Playboy TV and EuroSportNews. It brings E! Entertainment Television and Nickelodeon into Hong Kong homes for the first time.

Blomfield is not ruling out the possibility of a future link up with a less traditional pay TV player, Now Broadband TV, which bowed in October and delivers programming using broadband technology via phone lines.

The wholly owned subsidiary of PCCW, the largest communications provider in Hong Kong, offers 30 a la carte channels so that consumers only pay for channels they want.

One thing everyone does agree on is that exciting times are ahead. “The pay TV market is moving towards a genuinely new stage in development,” says Simon Twiston Davies, the CEO of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia (Casbaa). “We are starting to see the results of years of long-term investments; 2004 is going to be a cracker of a year.”

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