Satellite to increase Malaysian channel offerings

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SINGAPORE -- Malaysia's newest satellite, Measat-3, launched successfully from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday after an 18-month delay, raising hopes of major new opportunities for programrs targeting direct-broadcast pay TV audiences in Malaysia, Indonesia and South Asia.

The new satellite increases capacity from the 91.5 degree east orbital slot by 300% and covers 160 million television households across Malaysia, Indonesia and South Asia with high-powered direct-broadcast beams. Additional broad C-band beams reach more than 100 countries, Measat said.

Malaysia's monopoly direct-broadcast platform, Astro, has promised to launch about 50 channels on the new satellite, taking its existing channel package to more than 100 channels.

Astro's current channel bouquet for Malaysia includes Hallmark Channel, Bloomberg TV, HBO, Cinemax, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, ESPN and CNBC Asia Pacific.

No carriage agreements have been announced for the new satellite, though channels like E! Entertainment and Discovery Networks Asia's digital package are believed to be among the first in line.

Astro has 1.97 million residential subscribers (36% penetration) in Malaysia, and is one of the largest commercial pay TV platforms in Asia. The company also in involved in a joint venture pay TV platform in Indonesia, PT DirectVision.

Astro chief executive Rohana Rozhan said shortly after launch that the company is gearing up for "substantial expansion by mid-2007."

Among other services, "there will be more vernacular programming to meet the growing appetite for local content," she said.

Astro deputy chairman Ralph Marshall said earlier this month that the company plans to spend between $57 million and $71 million on its 25 in-house channels over the next 12 months.

Built by U.S. satellite manufacturer Boeing Satellite Systems, Measat-3 was originally scheduled to launch in June 2005, but was delayed for technical reasons.
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