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By | May 9, 2001

      Channel D, the commercial pay-TV service, which targets the German speaking communities across the world, aims to launch its 24-hour television channel on August 1.

      In an exclusive interview with Interspace, Jurgen Grobbin, the channel’s founder and managing director, disclosed details about the project. Channel D, which will compete head on with state-funded German international service Deutsche Welle TV, targets German speaking people of all ages at first in South Amercia, the Caribbean islands and the East coast of the United States of America. According to Grobbin, 4.7 million German speaking people live in those regions.

      Channel D will screen movies, series, documentaries and general entertainment programmes such as talk shows and game shows. The TV service is accompanied by Radio D, a 24-hour radio station playing German Schlager and Volksmusik. The TV productions will be bought in from commercial German TV broadcasters with some in-house productions such as portraits and music programmes planned in around 10 months.

      The channel, based in northern German regional state Bremen, will uses the satellite Telstar 12 (15 degrees West) in the 11 GHz band to reach DTH viewers and hotels in the target regions. According to Grobbin, those two are the primary focus groups with cable distribution, although not ruled out, playing a less important role. A decision will be made soon about the encryption system to be used for the digital satellite feed.

      The reception equipment, subscriptions and smart cards will be commercialised by Channel D’s offices in Sao Paulo (South America) with complementary divisions in

      Rio, Asuncion (Paraguay), the Dominican Republic and Florida (USA). The channel, which recently received its broadcasting licence from Bremen’s local media authority, aims to gain awareness in the target group by placing advertisements in German language newspapers and by local marketing campaigns, through the German embassies and Goethe institutes.

      The project was founded by media entrepreneur Jurgen Grobbin, head of Eutelsat’s dealer department in Germany and the soon-to-be launched foreign services package FSP for cable networks. Apart from Grobbin, the start-up costs that amount to $2 million are financed by Eutelsat’s former marketing manager Christian Zippel, who serves as Channel D’s broadcast director, Karl-Otto Saur, head of a German media agency Kontor fur Kultur und Kommunikation, and private investors.

      According to Grobbin, Channel D needs 25,000 subscribers to reach financial break even, which is expected in two years. Apart from small teleshopping windows in which typical German products can be bought, the channel will be commercial free.

      After the launch in the initial regions, it is planned to transmit Channel D to the whole of USA and Canada in a second stage with Africa for hotels following later. Grobbin said that negotiations are currently underway with Asiasat for coverage of Asia. He stressed that Channel D won’t become available in Europe as it restricts itself as a pay-TV service for German speaking communities outside Europe.

      However, new competition is already in sight. Deutsche Welle intends to launch a second TV channel in co-operation with German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF for German speaking viewers in the USA next year. In contrast to Deutsche Welle TV, which is available free-to-air and focuses on news, current affairs and information magazines, the second channel will mainly screen movies, series and entertainment programmes from the public broadcaster’s archives and finance through pay-TV subscriptions, just like Channel D.

      It is planned to expand the service to South America and Canada at a later date. Asked about the differences between his project and the public broadcasters’ ventures, he explained that Channel D has the advantage of an early launch, a small and flexible management team, local offices and independent commercialisation.

      “We don’t join expensive platforms,” he outlined. His comments follow speculation that Deutsche Welle aims to put the new pay-TV subsidiary onto the US-based DirecTV platform. Interspace believes that the negotiations are almost finalised. Independently from which channel will become the most successful, the German speaking communities abroad can look forward to soon having the choice between a manifold variety of TV programmes in their mother tongue language.Spanish satellite operator Hispasat experienced a good first quarter 2001 by recording a turnover of Pta 4.3 billion (E25.84m), a rise of 27.7 per cent compared to the same period last year.

      Its operating profits grew by 38.1 per cent, reaching Pta 3.6 billion, while its net profit increased 19.3 per cent to Pta 1.1 billion – thanks to the marketing of its third unit Hispasat 1C.

      The company, headed by Pedro Antonio Martin Marin and with three satellites in orbit (1A, 1B and 1C), also has ambitious plans for the future. Hispasat claims to be in talks with Astra and Eutelsat, the major players in Europe, over a possible alliance to fully break into the European market.

      A decision is due to be made before this summer starts. Negotiations with Eutelsat seem to be at a more advanced stage, even though the recent alliance between SES and GE American has placed Astra in a very good position to become Hispasat’s strategic partner.

      The new partner will become a shareholder in Hispasat through a capital enlargement or by forcing some present shareholders to reduce their shares in the satellite operator.

      Currently, the company is shared by the domestic broadcasting agency Retevision (30.28 per cent), Telefonica (22.74 per cent), BBVA (18.48 per cent), INTA (18.29 per cent), SEPI (8.21 per cent) and CDTI (2 per cent).

      Hispasat also strengthened its position on the American continent and is to set up a subsidiary company called Hispamar, along with Brasilian Telemar, to develop its project called Amazon. This project includes the launch of a satellite that will be located in the 61 degrees West slot over Brazil in 2003, which will cover the whole American continent. Total investments are estimated at Pta 50 billion.

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