A. Our current focus includes the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and Hungary, but our remit will widen when 3B goes live because of its larger footprint, high power output and greater capacity. As to how successful the 23.5°E slot has been, the simple answer is so successful that we needed to commission 3B. Most of our customers are primarily direct-to-home (DTH) operators and they just keep growing.
In the Czech Republic, for example, we have attracted over one million households in just two and a half years. This has been achieved with just two platforms, the Czech operator, CS Link, which broadcasts to 460,000 homes, and Skylink, which has over 600,000 subscribers in the Czech Republic and 280,000 in Slovakia. In December of last year alone Skylink grew by 55,000 households. These are impressive figures, especially considering the depressed economic climate in which they’ve been achieved.
A. Multifeed reception has been a very important factor here. When we first launched the Duo LNB a few years ago, we knew it was a good product with a lot of potential. After all, being able to receive transmissions from two different orbital positions is a relatively easy benefit to sell to consumers. But I don’t think anyone realized just how big a difference it would make.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia more than 80% of subscribers to our platforms are using the Duo LNB. It’s good news for broadcasters and subscribers. Households get all their favourite national and regional programming via 23.5°E, but because they also have easy access to 19.2°E, they get an additional package of over 400 free-to-air international channels - all from one small 60cm dish. This is what makes ASTRA different and better.
A. It gives us a much bigger footprint, which means more countries and homes will be able to take advantage of the Duo LNB. This is good news for existing customers because their audiences will grow with the extended footprint. For new broadcasters trying to create audiences in new territories where there might be very little or limited local content at the outset, being able to offer such a wide variety of free-to-air channels via 19.2°E is an extremely persuasive selling point.
A. The terrestrial digitization of central and eastern Europe is certainly proceeding at a much slower pace than western Europe. This digitization is very complicated for a number of reasons, particularly in the Czech Republic. Satellite on the other hand has no such problems, the transition is simple and we offer complete coverage of the countries we operate in.
This has made digitization another key growth factor here. Broadcasters such as CS Link and Skylink have been particularly well placed to benefit because they offer a wide choice of channels and a basic package for a single one-off payment. People love the simplicity of the basic package and that’s why the operators enjoy enormous growth. With 3B’s extended footprint, more countries will have an easy route to digitization via satellite, which will attract new broadcasters and audiences.
A. The satellite brings two key advantages: an extended footprint and additional capacity. The extended footprint gives us full coverage of the Balkans, something we don’t currently have at 23.5°E. It will also allow us to expand into new areas, for example Serbia, which we think will provide interesting opportunities for us.
The new capacity gives us room to grow, so we can further develop countries such as Slovenia and Croatia and attract new customers. We hope to soon have our first DTH customer in Croatia as a direct result of 3B.
It’s also important for our existing customers because it provides them with the freedom to grow their businesses. We are already seeing this in markets where we are more established such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where once a platform is launched and digitization has started, broadcasters usually want new capacity on a regular basis because of new channels coming on board.
A. Most definitely. Some of our customers don’t just want to grow their home markets, they also want to expand into new ones. 3B gives them a lot of potential for expansion into new markets and we know that in anticipation of 3B, some of our customers are already looking into this.
And it’s not just countries in central and eastern Europe that are looking to extend their reach. For companies such as CanalDigitaal in Benelux there are obvious synergies with customers in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. They have already agreed with CS Link and Skylink about sharing some capacity, especially for HD content. All they have to do is change the audio or subtitling locally, and channels such as Eurosport HD, for instance, can be transmitted to Benelux, and central eastern Europe. There are more and more of these kind of arrangements in prospect.
A. Two years ago we didn’t have any high-definition channels broadcasting to this region from 23.5°E; today there are 14 in the Czech Republic alone. It shows that central and eastern Europe is following the same HD trends as western Europe, so high-definition services are absolutely vital to the growth of this market and will be one of the major beneficiaries of 3B’s additional capacity.
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