Hong Kong -- Clear evidence that the Pacific Rim
cable-and-satellite industry has survived the economic crisis scathed -- but with a
healthy outlook on the future and recent results -- emerged here earlier this month at
the Casbaa exhibition and conference.
There was speculation prior to the annual confab that
attendance would be down, since Casbaa and its former organizing partner Reed Exhibitions
(a unit of Multichannel News parent Reed Elsevier Inc.) decided to go their
separate ways this year. Reed held a competing pay-TV event alongside its annual MIP Asia
program market in Singapore last week.
However, attendance at Casbaa's conference -- an
unofficial count of 400 attendees, up from 250 last year -- reached an all-time high.
Organizer AIC Worldwide estimated overall exhibition attendance at between 1,000 and
2,000, including the general public, which was invited on the show's third day.
There were other indicators that the industry is moving
forward. William Katherman, vice president and managing director of Scientific-Atlanta
Inc.'s Asia-Pacific division, noted the significant amount of cable infrastructure under
construction in northern Asia.
"Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China are all building cable
networks, either upgrading or building new HFC plant," he said. "870 MHz seems
to be the new bandwidth."
While most Asian systems are using analog set-top boxes,
Katherman said he expects a move to digital in the next year.
Only about 10 percent of all Asia's 110 million cable and
satellite households have any type of cable decoder, said Shing Kwong (S.K.) Fung,
Casbaa's outgoing president and managing director of investment fund group Sage Capital
Signs of growth were also noted by Peter Jackson, CEO of
satellite company Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co. Ltd. He said that a year ago, the
company received an inquiry about transponder space from video providers about once a
month; now, it's receiving about two a week.
Cable-network executives also see a silver lining.
"There seems to be one inexorable law: Subscribers are
increasing year on year, even in the most troubled markets," said Bruce Tuchman,
Nickelodeon International's general manager of global network ventures.
The one exception is Thailand, noted Frank Brown, president
of MTV Networks Asia. However, "we're optimistic about the growth potential in Asia
over the next three to five years," he added, noting that his unit's
advertising-revenue has grown 40 percent annually over the last two years.
Steve Marcopoto, president and managing director of Turner
International Asia Pacific, reported that TNT & Cartoon Network is showing 300 percent
annual-ad revenue growth in the few markets where satellite-delivered channels are
measured by People Meters -- notably Taiwan and Australia.
And the pressure is on for cable and satellite companies to
convince advertisers to buy time on their networks. Of the $60 billion spent on TV
advertising across the region in 1999, Fung noted, only about $500 million to $1 billion
went to the panregional satellite-delivered channels.
"Last year, there were only two markets with People
Meters" measuring multichannel subscribers, Fung noted. However, this year Australia,
India and eight local markets in China were added.
Duncan Morris, managing director of AC Nielsen China Ltd.,
reported that Hong Kong's established survey will be widened next month to measure
multichannel households. The Philippines and New Zealand will follow shortly thereafter.