While increased satellite and fiber solutions are increasing opportunities for broadcasters, technology advances will also play an important role. "A lot of broadcasters bought their equipment at the beginning of digital satellite television and we are almost at the stage where a whole host of satellite broadcasters are looking to upgrade to more up-to- date equipment. When broadcasters initially started pay-TV services over satellite, they were putting maybe four to six channels on a single transponder. Now, we know of people putting up to 18 channels on a single transponder. That has been facilitated by the improvements in MPEG-2 encoding technology," Bolton says.
David Mahlab, president and CEO of Scopus Network Technologies, adds, "A single transponder can now hold up to 16-18 digital channels. In terms of content distribution delivery, the market is stable. You can see satellite operators and broadcasters migrating from their first and second generation equipment to state-of-the-art compression systems."
The emergence of MPEG-4 technology is also boosting the prospects for satellite operators. Berretta comments, "In terms of MPEG-4, with the Open Sky platform we are not only dealing with Internet via satellite. We also have a video streaming capability where we transmit a number of channels in MPEG-4, which offers an even higher compression rate than MPEG-2. You can put 40 channels in one transponder. It may not be the same quality as MPEG-2, but it is still a very good quality. MPEG-4 is a promising technology which is best suited at the moment for events that do not need the big screen experience."
The Demand Is Out There
While the European broadcasting markets have suffered some tough times in recent months, satellite will continue to play a central role as the digital TV revolution takes off in Europe. A recent Datamonitor research report, Beyond the STB: New Device and Service Opportunities, states that in terms of European digital TV, satellite accounted for 78 percent of digital households in Europe in 2002.
The consolidation of satellite pay-TV operators in Spain and Italy could make those players stronger, both from a financial and operations perspective. This phenomenon will have a domino effect in terms of new channels and content for these platforms. Such a scenario can only be good news for satellite operators and other players in the value chain.
The demand for pay-TV services is out there. BSkyBs' subscriber growth is evidence of this, if any were needed. Satellite pay-TV operators will have to compete effectively against both cable players, as well as the emerging threat of DTT, but they are still well-positioned in major European pay-TV markets, especially now that consolidation has taken place. New opportunities, such as HDTV, will also offer satellite operators plenty of incentives in the broadcast arena. As a result, the first decade of 21st century promises to be an interesting time.
Mark Holmes is senior editor of two PBI Media newsletters, Inside Digital TV and Interspace.