London -- Middle East pay TV platform Orbit Satellite
Television and Radio has hit some unspecified but potentially alarming difficulties in
transmitting its signals to viewers.
Through the end of September, Rome-based Orbit had used the
Intelsat/New Skies 705 satellite to distribute its channels, which were uplinked from its
earth station by Telecom Italia SpA's Telespazio unit. At the same time, it is trying
to migrate viewers to aim their satellite dishes to receive signals from the more popular
and higher-powered ArabSat 3A satellite.
Orbit got help with its effort this past March, when rival
pay TV platform Arab Radio & Television -- based in the city of Avezzano, Italy, near
Rome -- agreed to pick up Orbit's Intelsat/New Skies 705 signals and retransmit them
to ArabSat 3A.
But at the end of September, either the Telespazio or ART
link was abruptly terminated. It couldn't be learned where the break occurred.
Transmissions from ArabSat have since resumed.
New Skies said only that its client is Telespazio, and that
it was working with lease contracts inherited from Intelsat. New Skies is the commercial
spinoff of Intelsat, and a consortium of governments owns it.
"We are in the process of moving from Intelsat to
ArabSat, and there have been a few outages," Orbit vice president of operations Allan
Garner said. "As of Oct. 1, we were going to switch off Intelsat, although signals
will continue for the time being. It is a complicated technical process moving from one
satellite to another. But we are fading down Intelsat, and there may be the odd service
interruption as we test new uplink methods."
He added that the company has run promos every 15 minutes
informing viewers of potential service disruptions.
However, reliable Middle East sources said the Orbit-ART
uplinking relationship is at an end, forcing Orbit to seek new uplink facilities.
Unconfirmed speculation in the past has suggested that
Orbit's owner, Saudi Arabian-based Mawared Group of Cos., had hit financial problems.
There was also some speculation that some Orbit suppliers, including Telespazio, had not
been paid. Orbit has strongly denied such speculation.
The company is now making final evaluations of various
pay-per-view proposals, which are dependent on the introduction of full MPEG-2 Digital
Video Broadcasting-compliant transmissions.
PPV is seen by Orbit as a key driver in persuading viewers
to adopt new set-top boxes. Potential suppliers of PPV-related equipment are under
consideration, Garner said.
"PPV is top priority for us, and we'd like to see
all of these elements in place by early 2000. Boxes would start being available some three
months after orders are placed, with a full quota in place within six months," he
Orbit expects to begin with a limited four- to five-channel
service, doubling the number of channels over time.