- According to their latest quarterly results (Q1/2002 to September 30), the News Corp-owned subscription specialists NDS now have 25.7 million digital TV subscribers. NDS’s revenue was up 10 percent to $89 million (E100 million), with operating income, margins and the state of its order book all markedly improved. Moreover, some 6 million new subscribers were added in the past year. Speaking at the earnings statement, CEO Dr Abe Peled said “we are pretty pleased, and the growth is according to plan despite the economic uncertainty.” NDS launched its XTV technology during the quarter, and Peled added that there are now six platforms or broadcasters – including QVC and Nickelodeon – committed to using NDS-developed interactive applications. NDS say economic conditions may impact on its performance for the next nine months, with expected income at risk from a slowdown in digital take-up.
- Although staff at the loss-making news channel BBC World have been told the service will not be closed, it seems likely it will be more closely integrated with the (radio) World Service. The challenge will be to marry the television channel, which depends on advertising and subscription income to survive, with the BBC’s World Service, which is funded by the UK government’s Foreign Office. BBC World is available to some 180 million homes around the world, but not in the UK. The service, whose losses were reduced from GBP18.3 million (E29.6 million) in 1999 to GBP11.4 million last year, comes under BBC Worldwide, the BBCs commercial arm, whose CEO Rupert Gavin is being touted as the next head of British Telecom. In a separate development, BBC 2W, an English-language digital channel for Welsh viewers, started transmissions on November 5 via satellite (Ch 965) from 20.30 each evening.
- Eutelsat CEO Giuliano Berretta announced at the recent Vicenza Sat Expo that the latest data shows Hot Bird penetration in Italy has increased by 36 percent in cable and satellite homes, with the number of homes reached now 3.2 million. Significantly, the rise in DTH reception is 50 percent higher than that for cable. Berretta nevertheless also admitted that the Demoskopea survey may not be completely precise, taking in account the difficulty of obtaining “sincere” replies from those who use their satellite dish to receive pay-TV services with pirate cards. He added that it is reasonable to assume that there are more than 4 million Eutelsat households in Italy. The federation of Italian communication industries Federcomin meanwhile presented its own survey, which revealed that out of 21 million households in the country, 3 million have a satellite dish and there are as many cabled households. Federcomin also claims that revenues from satellite TV this year in Italy will reach E650 million, compared to E5 billion in Germany and France.
- It is now known that Rotch Property, which is claimed to be the UK’s largest private property company, has joined with investment bankers WestLB as bidders for NTL’s television mast and uplink business. Rotch has reportedly hired Quinetiq, the R&D arm of the UK’s Ministry of Defence, to add their expertise to the bid. Rotch and Quinetiq are already collaborating on Quintel, which is examining whether new radio transmission technology in use by the British armed forces has any relevance in the public arena. According to some reports, France Telecom remains interested in the NTL division, with a value of GBP1.5 billion (E2.43 billion) being mentioned.
- Japan’s Superbird-6 will be launched on an Atlas vehicle by International Launch Services in October 2003. Superbird-6 is a Boeing 601 and is intended for location at 158 degrees East. Separately, London-based World Radio Network has made its debut on Telstar 5 in Ku-band digital. The existing C-band analogue service on Galaxy 5 will meanwhile be phased out at the end of this year.
- Although numerous companies have expressed interest in Italy’s La7, its owner Telecom Italia, now seems to be having second thoughts about selling the television channel. Telecom Italia’s CEO Marco Tronchetti Provera cancelled the first meeting with potential buyers scheduled for October 31, having previously publicly expressed doubts about selling a majority stake in La7 to a group of investors that included broadband provider e.Biscom, publisher Class Editori (which runs the CFN channel in partnership with CNBC), supermarket chain Esselunga and games group Giochi Preziosi. Also mentioned as potential buyers are CNN and the German publishing group Bertelsmann. The management of La7 is meanwhile working on a new editorial plan that foresees it becoming an all-news network in order to increase profitability and break-even in three years. Telecom Italia, controlled by the Olivetti holding, was taken over by Pirelli and Benetton in July and recently announced the sale of non-core assets.
- AGF, the German public and commercial television broadcasters’ viewer research association, intends to measure TV viewing figures in digital homes from next year. According to a spokesman, however, several technical problems will need to be ironed out beforehand. He explained that the main obstacle is the differences in set-top-boxes and technologies used in digital TV homes, adding that AGF aims to find a solution that will enable it to gather audience ratings regardless of such differences. The most common digital receiver in Germany is currently Kirch Group’s d-box, which is used by around 90 per cent of digital viewers. According to AGF, 5 per cent of German households – effectively 2 million homes – can receive digital television. Viewing figures measured by the Nurnberg-based research institute GfK on behalf of AGF currently cover only analogue homes.
- The UK’s ITC is understood to be examining transmissions from the Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera and checking whether the television watchdog’s requirements to be balanced and impartial are being met. Al Jazeera is licensed by the French broadcasting authorities, allowing its service to be seen throughout Europe. However, the ITC has decided to clamp down on what it sees as biased output and is examining content under its ‘incitement to racial hatred’ guidelines, in particular Al Jazeera’s screening of an Osama bin Laden tape that called on Muslims to “wage war on infidels.”
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