Israel Satellite Platform YES Finally Lifts Off

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Tel Aviv, Israel-Direct-to-home platform YES: DBS Satellite Services Ltd. put an end to months of speculation when it announced its launch, expected at press time to come last Saturday, July 15.

The debut was just in the nick of time: Dorit Inbar, chairwoman of the Israel Cable and Satellite Council, had indicated she would not approve any launch extension beyond the July 20 deadline on the direct-to-home provider's license.

When YES purchased its license in January 1999, CEO Eitan Rov suggested it would launch by the end of that year. Since then, the company has been beset by expensive delays.

YES offers a programming lineup and pricing scheme that's extremely competitive with the three cable operators that dominate Israel's pay TV industry. Though executives with those companies are not expected to take the fight lying down, they have yet to retaliate with countermarketing strategies.

YES boasts 75 channels at present and will up that total to between 80 and 85 by September, said vice president Yoni Wiesenthal. The company-which has the exclusive right to offer programming tiers in Israel-offers subscribers bronze, silver and gold packages.

The bronze package, priced at $32 (NIS129), will offer almost all of the channels available to cable subscribers, along with Turner Broadcasting System's Cartoon Network and the ability to order pay-per-view events. The cable operators' comparable one-tier package, with about 45 channels, costs $39 (NIS156).

For $45 (NIS179), silver package subscribers will receive an additional 10 YES-exclusive channels, including U.S.-based ZDTV. The gold package, which sells for $57 (NIS 229), adds four movie channels and a two-channel "adult entertainment" package.

"We have a much better product than cable," Wiesenthal claimed. "We offer 20 more channels, digital quality compared to analog, interactive services and a better price."

Earlier this month, YES shareholders said they intend to invest $600 million to $800 million over the next four years. Rov, who promised an $60 million investment 18 months ago, has seen costs soar to the current $200 million total.

YES shareholders include local telco Bezeq Ltd., with a 30 percent stake; Eurocom Communications, with 30 percent; Gilat Satellite Networks, with 15 percent; and Poalim Investments and Lidan Business Enterprises, which hold 12.5 percent each.

YES hopes to sign 20,000 subscribers in its first three months, and build that total to 120,000 to 140,000 subs by the end of its first year.

"YES is commencing its broadcasting platform with satellite-television transmissions, but the satellite platform will soon also be utilized to transmit all sorts of digital content," Rov noted.

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