Singapore -- Go figure: The booming Latin American pay TV
market experienced an extremely lackluster TEPAL trade show last month in Orlando, Fla.,
with the exhibition aisles largely empty.
But in Asia -- where the walking wounded are plentiful
these days -- the annual Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia panregional
conference and exhibition here was the source of both some animated dialogue and reports
of strong sales activity among programmers.
Alona Fischbein, marketing manager of Paris-based fashion
channel FTV, reported sales in several Asian markets. And Bruce Tuchman, general manager
of global-network ventures at Nickelodeon International, was moved enough to quip, "I
just hope that there are enough lawyers to write all of the contracts, with Christmas
Scrooge may have given the Asian pay TV industry a heck of
a bad present last Christmas, when the region's financial crises started kicking into
high gear. And Reed Exhibitions (the parent company of which, Reed Elsevier plc, owns Multichannel
News), which organized the CASBAA conference, had expected attendance to drop by about
500 this year, to 2,500.
But industry officials including Bryan McGuirk, vice
president and director of distribution for NBC Asia, noted that overall subscriber growth
for the region during 1998 reached about 20 percent.
That's not to say that CASBAA panelists felt that
everything's coming up roses. "I see our business over the next 18 months as
being fairly flat," commented Paul Coxon, vice president and managing director, Asia
Pacific for Scientific-Atlanta (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. Coxon added that he expects that when
more Asian systems start implementing two-way applications, "our revenues will lift
While Coxon didn't comment on sales at the show, other
equipment suppliers were far from pleased with activity in their booth spaces.
Also evoking displeasure was a surprise panelist -- the
elusive and press-shy Peter Gontha, chairman of PT Datakom Asia, the holding company for
Indonesia's beleaguered direct-to-home platform, Indovision.
Gontha railed at one trade journalist who had written a
sharply worded comment about the disgruntlement of programmers waiting for back payments
from Indovision, and he was furious over reports that he had been "detained" by
police, explaining that he'd just been questioned by them.
By way of illustrating the dire straits of his company,
Gontha noted that there are currently 100 million people below the poverty line in
Indonesia, versus 27 million nine months ago. "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is
mystery," he said. "I don't know where we go from here."
Other panelists did have some constructive ideas, however,
on how the industry can make the best of a pretty raw deal.
Both S.K. Fung, outgoing president of NBC Asia and current
president of CASBAA, and Frank Brown, president of MTV Networks Asia, were strong
proponents of several actions. Among them were: cross-promoting channels; holding forums
for ad executives in key markets in order to build awareness of cable's advantages;
and initiating new research that would measure, among other things, viewership at
particular points in time.
Brown initiated a meeting among CASBAA board members to get
the forum idea off the ground.
Having been humbled by overly romantic predictions about
the industry's growth in the past, no one was willing to speculate about subscriber
or revenue growth in years to come.
But Kevin-john McIntyre, senior vice president and general
manager of Discovery Channel Asia, was moved to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, saying,
"If we don't hang together, we'll hang separately."