Hong Kong Convention: Satellite Operator SES Talks China Growth, Ultra HD

The company sees Asian TV operators' expansion into developing markets beyond the region, like Africa, as a major industry trend.

HONG KONG – Hot on the heels of the news that Apple is likely to begin selling 4K Ultra High Definition television sets in 2014, representatives of leading global satellite operator SES shared their thoughts on the transition to Ultra HD at the satellite broadcaster conference, CASBAA Convention 2013, in Hong Kong.

The company also recently inked a deal with Chinese digital TV operator StarTimes Communication Network Technology to expand its footprint in Africa -- a crucial growth market for the global satellite TV industry, the company says.

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"Now in Asia, most of the offerings are in standard definition," SES Asia-Pacific VP Glen Tindall told The Hollywood Reporter. "Less than ten percent of the channels carried on our satellites in the Asia-Pacific are in high definition, compared with 27 percent globally across our fleet. So we expect to see standard definition converting to High Definition in time, and ultimately into Ultra HD. We see strong growth there and there needs to be infrastructure there to support that growth.

"In terms of satellite infrastructure, we're already designing the satellites to support Ultra HD," Tindall added. "They will support SD, HD, and Ultra HD. One of the great things about satellite is that it's a medium that can do that whereas other systems will struggle, because satellites can keep adding channels relatively easily. Ultra HD is frankly just a few years away."

Tindall believes that Japan and Korea will lead the conversion to Ultra HD in Asia. SES has launched new satellites for the Asia-Pacific region during each of the last three years.

SES has 44 Direct-to-home (DTH) platforms globally. The company, headquartered in Luxembourg, has about 6,000 channels globally carried on their satellites, of which 1,700 are in HD. In the Asia-Pacific region, they are carrying 900 channels, which makes SES the satellite company with the largest number of channels in the Asia-Pacific.

Beginning in October, SES is providing four transponders to China's influential system integrator, technology provider and network operator StarTimes Communication Network Technology for their DTH subscribers in Africa. The fifth transponder will be used for a Chinese language bouquet of channels, which is targeted to serve the around one million ethnic Chinese living in Africa.

StarTimes has also acquired the 20 percent stake in the South African pay-TV operator TopTV owned by SES.

Based in China, StarTimes is the fastest-growing digital TV operator in Africa and has over 2.6 million digital terrestrial television (DTT) subscribers. "Of the number of transponders they are leasing from us for Africa," said Tindall, "about 20 to 30 channels will be dedicated Chinese language content. So this is a very clear example of local Asian content moving to other continents."

This particular deal with StarTimes represents quite a lot of work and the merging of several strategies, said Tindall.

"First of all, we see Africa as being very important for our growth. The African market has been a market that has been monopolistic – there was very little choice and generally it was very poorly served. So we identified some years ago that Africa was a market that needs additional competition and choice for our African customers," he explained.

"Secondly, we've been trying to engage with Chinese broadcasters for some time and certainly that is a long and hard road," he added. "Thirdly, for about five years now, we've identified the other trend of Western content coming into Asia is starting to, not reverse, but we're starting to see a reciprocal arrangement the other way where the Asian content is now going to other parts of the world. So these three factors has combined in this one very significant deal."