Between May 18 and 20, London’s Earl’s Court was the site of the 1998 Cable and Satellite Show. Without a doubt, this was the year of digital satellite and cable!
When I last attended the show, in 1996, the first digital satellite receivers (from Nokia) were on display. But there were virtually no services you could tune in to. And at the time there was great uncertainty about standards. Those of us who had followed analog satellite TV perhaps naively thought that digital TV meant the end of all the conflicting standards of the analog world. After all, it’s very easy to encrypt digital signals, so you could easily have one worldwide system, set up to allow subscriptions to individual channels or packages.
Instead, we’ve had a plethora of conflicting encryption systems, and worse yet, initially dedicated receivers that can only be used to watch digital output from just one provider. Many of those first generation digital receivers weren’t equipped for any encryption at all. While many channels have tested without coding, and a handful remain uncoded, in the long run what is necessary is a digital receiver that can receive any channel available for subscription.
We’re almost there. Nokia, an early pioneer in digital receivers, has become a leading player, and at Cable and Satellite 98 demonstrated its second generation decoder boxes, not just for digital satellite, but for cable and terrestrial digital as well. Unfortunately, each of the three still requires its own box. When I interviewed the head of Nokia Multimedia, Heikko Koskinen, I asked him when we will have one decoder box for everything. His reply was that two-service boxes are on the way. Set-top boxes for all three are farther in the future.
Nokia’s press briefing, led by Heikko Koskinen, was unusual in that it wasn’t the usual simple announcement that could be expressed in a line or two at the top of a press release. Instead it was more an introduction into the company’s visions of the future of the integration of digital TV, the Internet, digital mobile telephones, and other multimedia services.
Nokia had an extremely high profile at the show, including sponsorship of the press room. (On the other hand, one should remember that in 1996 the press room was sponsored by the Weather Channel, which went out of business in Europe last year.)
The center of the exhibition was dominated by four stands. Kitty-corner to each other were Nokia and its major satellite receiver rival Pace. Occupying the other corners of the foursome were Europe’s two satellite rivals, Astra and Eutelsat.
Right next to them, with similar huge stand, was British Sky Broadcasting, promoting its coming digital service. Two years ago Sky didn’t even bother to exhibit at the Cable and Satellite Show, since it had a more or less monopoly on satellite broadcasting to Britain. But, as one of the last operators in Europe, Sky is finally launching a digital service, later this year, and used the show to massively promote it.
This was necessary because Sky’s would-be digital viewers have to buy new equipment. Not only do they need new digital receivers, but either new dishes aimed at the new Astra location 28 degrees East, or they will have to move their current dishes.
And while every other digital operator in Europe is using common receiver technology, even if they have varying encryption systems, Sky has gone its own way. Only special BSkyB receivers (made by Pace and some other companies) will work, and these apparently won’t work with other digital operators. Ironically, Sky has denounced the new British digital terrestrial broadcaster BDB for using an incompatible system, since BDB is using the system used in the rest of Europe.
Ironically, while 3 years ago there were many channels exhibiting, aside from Sky the only really major channel presence this time was from BDB and the BBC, also preparing to launch new digital TV services.
The Cable and Satellite Show also featured three series of free seminars about different aspects of satellite and cable TV. One was sponsored by Astra, and the most courageous talk was held by Astra’s Market Development Manager, Torben Rasmussen, about “The Astra Satellite System, services and features for the Nordic Market”. Rasmussen is a Dane, so he certainly is familiar with the territory. But all of the Nordic services have moved off Astra to the Swedish and Norwegian satellite positions at 5 degrees East and 1 degree West. The last to go was Turner’s Cartoon Network, which recently dropped the Swedish soundtrack from its Astra transponder.
Torben Rasmussen mostly talked about Astra’s future plans, at both 19 and 28 degrees East. There are currently 64 analog transponders, along with 202 digital video services, and 104 digital audio. Of the digital video channels, 40 are non-encrypted. These (largely German) channels were the main reason Torben Rasmussen gave for why Nordic viewers would want to buy digital receivers and tune in to Astra. He said Nordic broadcasters would want to return to Astra because they could extend their coverage to greater parts of Europe.
(This doesn’t really seem all that plausible.)
Tore Karlsson of Sweden’s Teracom gave a talk on Digital Terrestrial Television in Northern Europe, on behalf of the DigiTAG group of European broadcasters preparing digital services. He presented the timetable for the introduction of DTT in Sweden, with the first transmissions to 5 regions to start by January 1, 1999 at the latest. In fact, by September there should be transmission facilities in place to reach 50% of the population.
He also discussed the decision by a Parliamentary Commission to award licenses for the first phase to more channels than there is room for, along with a proposal that more spectrum be allocated for two further multiplexes.
He also mentioned new types of interactive and multimedia services to be offered via DTT, such as shopping, banking, travel, games, distance learning, and “Internet-like services”.
Everywhere you looked at Cable and Satellite 98, the convergence of digital TV with other services was in evidence. Many companies were offering faster ways to access the Internet, by satellite or cable. Israel’s New Media Communications has sold a system to Sweden’s Viasat and Tele2 (both part of the Kinnevik media empire, which has otherwise opted not to start digital TV services) to make Internet access possible by satellite. Users, who already have satellite dishes and analog receivers, aim their dishes at Sweden’s Sirius 2 satellite. The signal is carried to a PCI receiver card in a computer. The return path is by telephone.
Such a solution continues to block the telephone line (which in Europe, unlike the US, costs per minute even for a local call). Stefan Meier of New Media really couldn’t give me a good answer when I pointed this out (the faster download can mean you are online for a shorter period, so you’d use the phone line less was all he could say). When I asked the same question of Nokia’s Heikko Koskinen, he had a much better reply. On the satellite front, he pointed out that Astra will soon be launching its 1H satellite, which will have a return path for home users, using the Ka-band. He also mentioned that cable modems are coming, and that telephone companies may soon be offering digital ADSL services, both of which allow permanent connections to the Internet, without blocking a telephone line. And while GSM telephones (a major market for Nokia) can currently only access data at 9600 bps, agreement has been reached on a new cellular phone standard that will permit far faster data rates.
In today’s broadcast edition of MediaScan you can hear Heikko Koskinen describe why the company kept such a high profile at the Cable and Satellite Show, and he talks about these future visions.
You can also hear Kent Andersson of the Swedish consumer electronics magazine “Ljud och Bild” (formerly “Elektronikvärlden”) discuss what makes the Cable and Satellite Show so important.
We’ll have more voices from the show in future editions of the program.
CORRECTION–Regarding the recent report referring to Digital AM, Jihoud Daoud has pointed out that AM is an analog modulation system, and the term is contradictory. While both Teracom and the ITU have used the expression, it might have made more sense to say “Digital HF”.
SWEDEN–While both Denmark and France have already taken advantage of the new EU rule that allows them to list important sports events that must be carried on free TV, Sweden has not done so. Minister of Culture Marita Ulvskog, in Brussels for the meeting that adopted the new rule on May 28, said her ministry is waiting while they compile a complete list of all sports events that are to be protected. (TT)
TCC–The Children Channel Nordic disappeared from Sweden’s Telia Cable systems on schedule on May 25. But, contrary to all reports, the channel continues to share a transponder with Discovery on Thor 1 on 11.938 GHz in D2-MAC.
THOR–Norway’s Thor 3, scheduled to launch with Delta on June 9/10, is expected to open new markets for Telenor in Central and Eastern Europe. The satellite’s footprint reaches 18 European countries (somewhat countering the argument from Astra at the Cable and Satellite Show).
Among the first broadcasters moving onto Thor 3 will be British Sky Broadcasting, and Sweden’s Viasat (Kinnevik) both of which will broadcast in analog form. Telenor already has contracts and potential customers, and expects to fill 50 percent of Thor 3’s capacity by the end of this year. Broadcasters on TV-Sat, also at 1 degree West, will also be moving to Thor 3. There will also be new digital services to the Nordic market, such as home shopping, video-on-demand, and fast Internet access. (Telenor)
NBC-Here are more details about what will be happening to NBC Europe, after the merger with the National Geographic Channel on July 1. NBC will continue to broadcast 06:00-12:00 hrs, and National Geographic 12:00-06:00 hrs CET. Transmissions will continue on Eutelsat II-F1 on 10.987 GHz (Radio Sweden is on this transponder) for the time being, but the analog programming is to be replaced with digital in September, and the channel will move then to 28 degrees East to join the Sky digital package. NBC shows like “Profiler”, “Dateline”, “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”, “Union Square”, and “Mr Rhodes” will go off the air, while “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” will be moving to CNBC. Highlights of “The Tonight Show” and some sports coverage (baseball?????) will be shown on weekends.
CNBC will continue in analog PAL on Astra, but will become encoded during the evening and night, because it will also be joining Sky’s digital package at 28 degrees East. Scandinavian viewers will then have to access CNBC on Thor 2, where it is part of the Canal Digital package (which has yet to be marketed).
One reason for the demise of NBC Europe is that National Geographic had complained that it had a hard time getting onto British cable networks with its pay channel on Astra transponder 7, when its programming was also on the free channel NBC Europe. (The simple solution here might have been removing its programming from NBC, rather than killing NBC.) BSkyB, which owns half the existing National Geographic Channel, will continue to own half of the new channel, with the rest split between National Geographic and NBC. (“What Satellite TV” and Richard Karlsson, “Aftonbladet”)
Radio Sweden will be moving to a new home at 13 degrees East in September, when NBC/National Geographic closes the 10.987 GHz transponder.
SKY–British Sky Broadcasting is preparing to cut the cost of its Multichannels package, following the closure of five channels, most recently Sky Scottish on May 31 (the others are Weather Channel, TCC, EBN, and CMT). The broadcaster told “What Satellite TV” that the ITC’s current probe into the bundling of channels in packages is likely to force it to introduce a smaller, cheaper package of channels from June or July. (“What Satellite TV”)
SES has launched ASTRA-Vision, promoting its digital TV, radio, and multimedia services. The service is broadcast in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, and Spanish. ASTRA-Info 1 outlines the free-to-air digital services. ASTRA-Info 2 features information on the digital pay packages from France, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. ASTRA-Vision is broadcast in MPEG-2 on transponder 108 (12.556 GHz) from 19 degrees East. (SES) The uncoded PAL version of ASTRA-Vision is carried on transponder 51, replacing CMT. ASTRA-Vision is also carried in clear MPEG-2 at 28 degrees East, on 11.817 GHz.
The Dutch Canal Plus digital service on Astra is switching encryption system from the old Nethold Irdeto to Seca’s Mediaguard. Irdeto will continue during a transition period. (Richard Karlsson, “Aftonbladet”)
Playboy TV’s pay-per-night service on Astra transponder 58 has been replaced by an identical service from The Adult Channel. The surprise change, which may be linked to the recent merger of Spice Entertainment and Playboy (presumably in the UK, not the American Playboy Channel. (“What Satellite TV”)
E!–E! Entertainment has confirmed that its UK channel will start between June and October. (“What Satellite TV”) Curiously, this corresponds to exactly the time frame during which Sky’s digital service is launching.
EUTELSAT–Fashion TV, having left PAL transmissions on Eutelsat II-F1, and returned a day or two later, has now once again left the transponder. (“SATCO DX”)
The Shalom Channel has started officially on Hot Bird 3, 12.380 GHz, in clear MPEG-2, at 22:30-24:00 hrs CET. (“SATCO DX”)
Eros TV has left Eutelsat II-F3, and is now only on Eutelsat II-F1, in coded D2-MAC, on 11.658 GHz. (“SATCO DX” and Richard Karlsson, “Aftonbladet”)
Serbia’s RTS Sat has left 11.658 GHz on Eutelsat II-F2, and is now found on 11.596 GHz on the same satellite. The Croatian HRT Sat has ceased analog PAL transmissions on Eutelsat II-F3, 10.987 GHz. Digital transmissions from HRT 1-3 and HRT Net can now be found on Hot Bird 3, 12.303 GHz. They are to be encoded in Viaccess. (Richard Karlsson in “Aftonbladet”)
Hungary’s Duna TV has left Eutelsat II-F3 (11.596 GHz), and is now only on Hot Bird 4 on 10.815 GHz. Antenna Hungary is testing in MPEG-2 on Hot Bird 3 on 11.149 GHz. (Richard Karlsson, “Afonbladet”)
MURDOCH SI, KIRCH NO–The European Commission announced on May 20 that it is likely to approve the launch of British Interactive Broadcasting, the joint venture by BSkyB, BT, Midland Bank, and Panasonic, which promises a whole range of interactive digital services alongside the BSkyB digital package. BT’s efforts to address EU concerns have seen it promise that third parties would have access to BiB-subsidised set-top boxes and software. BT has also announced it plans to sell its broadband cable TV interests in Westminster and Milton Keynes. The Commission had expressed concern that the subsidation of the set-top box would benefit Sky’s digital package, thus giving BSkyB an unfair advantage. (Reuters)
On May 27 the European Commission unanimously stopped the German pay-TV alliance between Bertelsmann, Kirch, and Deutsche Telekom, as an obstacle to competition. Commissioner Karel Van Miert said a last attempt to find a compromise, which focused on the price that rival cable firms would be able to charge customers, as well as the possibility for them to choose only certain channels. But this was rejected by Bertelsmann.
The alliance involved merging the only successful German pay-TV company, Premiere (jointly owned by Bertelsmann and Kirch) with Kirch’s digital satellite package DF-1. DT is Germany’s largest cable operator.
The president of the council of German media regulators says the Commission veto will slow the development of pay-TV. “I simply cannot see where the competition is supposed to come from”, said Reiner Hochstein, who holds the rotating presidency of the Conference of Directors of State Media Regulators, adding that the move would prove to be counter-productive, by reinforcing existing monopolies.
Kirch immediately announced plans to shut down DF-1. Deutsche Telekom has says it will spin off its loss-making cable television activities, and seek partners to break it up into at least six regional companies. (Reuters)
BRITAIN–A parliamentary committee says Britain should pull the plug on analog terrestrial TV by the year 2010, to speed the transition to the digital age. The Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee, urged sweeping reforms in media and telecoms regulations, in a report called “The Multi-Media Revolution”. (Reuters)
NILESAT–On May 31, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak activated Egypt’s new Nilesat 101 satellite, the first satellite owned by an African country. Nilesat is capable of broadcasting 72 TV channels. Twenty-one are reserved for Egypt, while many of the others have been leased by Libya, Bahrain, Iraq, and an encrypted movie service. (AP)
11.747 GHz Tests
11.766 ERTU 1/2, ESC 2, Nile TV International
11.823 Imhotep Channel, Horus Vision, Oman TV, Bahrain TV
11.843 1st Net package
11.900 1st Net package
11.919 ERTU 8, Nile Drama Channel
11.996 Showtime package
12.034 Showtime package
TV5–The French language channel TV5 Orient officially launched on May 28, via Arabsat 2A, to the Arab world, the Gulf, and the Maghreb, after tests since the end of January. This followed the cancellation last July of the contract between Arabsat and Canal France International, after France Telecom broadcast a pornographic film instead of a children’s program across the Arab region.
IRAN–A hardline Iranian magazine reports that media mogul Rupert Murdoch paid a “secret” visit to Iran last month. The “Sobh” (Morning) monthly, which regularly exposes events and issues it deems to be anti- Islamic, said Murdoch arrived on May 9, and stayed for three days. According to the paper, Murdoch, identified as an “American Zionist mogul who uses his satellite channels to destroy ethnic and religious cultures and foster corruption and prostitution throughout the world”, held talks with officials at the Ministry of Culture, the state-run radio-television organization, and the head of Iran’s soccer federation. (AFP)
INDIA–A senior minister in the new fundamentalist government says India will soon begin producing programs to be aired on its international television channel, to counter what it sees as a negative image projected by Western networks. Minister for Communications and Information and Broadcasting Sushman Swaraj says the programs will be produced in association with India’s Foreign Ministry, and would be aimed at hundreds of thousands of Indian expatriates abroad. (Reuters)
JAPAN–After a year of debate, Japan has decided to delay the official launch of terrestrial digital TV services by three years to 2003, giving in to calls from broadcasters over the expected high costs. The Posts and Telecommunications Ministry said May 29 that it expects Japanese TV stations to start digital TV broadcasts in the Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya urban areas by 2003, and in other areas by 2006. But it called on TV stations to start experimental services in the Tokyo area from 2000. The ministry also says Japan will switch off its existing analog TV services by 2010. All five major networks plan to offer digital TV services on satellite platforms from 2000, when Japan will switch its analog satellite service to digital. (Reuters)
AUSTRALIA–The Galaxy package on Optus B3 (156 degrees East) on 12.376 and 12.438 GHz has ceased, due to the liquidation of Galaxy. Most of the channels have been integrated into the Optus Vision and Austar package. There are new line-ups on 12.407, 12.564, 12.626, and 12.689 GHz. (“SATCO DX”)
GALAXY–On May 19 Galaxy 4 started to spin, and was lost, cutting off services to millions of paging customers around the United States. Up to 90 percent of the 45 million pager users in the United States were affected.
The satellite’s owner, PanAmSat, obtained permission from the FCC to move the Galaxy 6 satellite to replace Galaxy 4. In the meantime, pager services were rerouted over Galaxy 3R, and service resumed on May 21. Having moved from 74 degrees West, Galaxy 6 arrived at Galaxy 4’s position at 99 degrees West on May 27. Most Galaxy 6 services have moved temporarily to other satellite. (Reuters, “Satellite Times”, “SATCO DX”)
Galaxy 4 also carried programming from National Public Radio to its 600 member stations. In an historic first, less than an hour after the failure, NPR was using its web site on the Internet to offer stations a back-up feed of programming. Even with ISDN phone lines and alternate satellite space from ABC, PBS, and CBC available to NPR affiliates, some 30 stations used the RealAudio streaming feed. (Curt Swinehart)
Jean-Marie Luton, chairman of France’s Arianespace, said in Singapore on June 2 he would be interested in developing a joint satellite launch system with China. Arianespace has already begun work with Russia to develop a joint venture system for constellation satellite launches, even though the firm competes directly with Russia on geostationary launches. Constellation launches put many satellites into low Earth orbit at once. (Reuters)
HUGHES–On May 20, Hughes Space and Communications announced it was sending the wayward Asiasat-3 (now HGS-1) satellite around the Moon for a second time, to further improve its orbit. The satellite was left in a useless orbit after the failure of the rocket that carried it into space on Christmas Day. Hughes used the onboard rocket to nudge the satellite into higher orbits, and then fired it towards the Moon. HGS-1 passed the Moon on May 13, and looped back towards Earth. It was sent back around the Moon on June 1. (AP)
MOTOROLA–On May 21 Motorola gave up plans to develop an Internet-by- satellite system of its own, and struck a deal to fold its Celestri project into the rival Teledesic system, backed by Bill Gates. (Reuters)