By Mark Holmes
High-Definition Television (HDTV) is a hot topic and one that offers strong revenue opportunities for companies in the satellite sector. Satellite pay-TV operators such as the U.K.'s BSkyB and Premiere in Germany will look to get a competitive edge over cable and other forms of competition. Satellite operators such as Eutelsat and SES Astra will hope the demand for HD content will lead to more lucrative deals as they look to sell more capacity. For broadcasters, HD will become another differentiator in the battle for ratings. Throughout the next year, there are likely to be significant developments as HD should further penetrate the public consciousness.
All the dynamics are place. The price of HD compatible equipment is coming down and the success of HDTV in Asia and North America will undoubtedly have an effect on Europe. Asia Digital Media for example, a digital content transaction platform designed to distribute HDTV satellite broadcasting, is currently developing its secure technology solutions to enable HD programming of the 2008 Summer Olympics in China, high-speed Internet and online transaction services to the Chinese market.
And even though the Rainbow DBS service is no longer delivering HD-dedicated programming in the United States, North American service providers continue to distribute HD content through established platforms. David McGlade, CEO of Intelsat Ltd., says that his company's broadcasting clients are growing in HD programming and that Intelsat has had a long history of transmitting HD broadcasts of major entertainment events.
"We are seeing the acceleration of HDTV in the Americas and that is driving the activity in Europe, particularly in the contribution/distribution space to get coverage of live events for the U.S. audiences," says Warren Hobson, director of corporate strategy at Tandberg Television. "The fact that HD is accelerating in North America actually has something of an impact in the way the European market is developing. The whole HD dynamic in North America is helping to drive down the cost of display devices. The benefits of lower cost displays will feed directly into the European market."
It is not just the price of displays and events in the United States that fuel HD growth. There are major events on the horizon that could catapult HDTV's popularity, such as the upcoming World Cup, which takes place in Germany in 2006. With global audiences and matches to be screened in HD, this event could have huge bearing on making HD a must for consumers.
The other key aspect is that HD content and packages could become part of the pay-TV battle between cable, satellite and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) platforms. So far in Europe, satellite pay-TV operators have been quicker out of the blocks in providing services such as Personal Video Recorders (PVR)) and HDTV. BSkyB and Premiere will blaze a trail for HDTV for pay-TV operators, possibly driving satellite rivals to develop competing offerings. This could drive additional subscriber growth in established pay-TV markets and also boost average revenue per unit for established pay-TV audiences. With competition not just from cable, but IPTV and digital terrestrial television, satellite pay-TV platforms will need to use every weapon in their armory to grow strong businesses.