Sat-ND, 28.10.96

Sat-ND 96-10-28 - Satellite and Media News

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Iraq to launch satellite TV channel, papers claim
According to Iraqi media reports, the country's National Assembly today
ratified a bill to set up a satellite TV channel. The project was
"important in communicating Iraq's voice to the rest of the world," papers
Sat-ND readers know that Iraq has encountered some trouble finding a
satellite organisation that would carry the channel. Arabsat last July
rejected Iraq's request to be readmitted to the organisation, demanding the
country pay its debts first (Sat-ND, 19.7.96.) Iraq, being under to strict
UN sanctions, of course hasn't got the money to do so. The country then
turned its attention to TÜRKSAT, the national satellite system of Turkey.
The deal seemed to be done, but then there were those sanction again. A
United Nations committee ruled satellite TV were not "considered a civilian
need" and turned down the Turkish request (Sat-ND, 15.10.96.)
Iraqi papers today said, however, that a new deal has been arranged that
would get the new TV channel up and running by the end of this year -- on a
EUTELSAT satellite. We'll see.

TCI cable goes digital
Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI,) still the U.S. cable giant, is pretty much
down in the dumps. John Malone, Chief Executive of the company, now
launched an initiative to get it up again. 
The company's new strategy focuses on digital TV, directly attacking the
several digital TV packages available via direct broadcast satellites.
Reportedly, TCI lost over 300,000 subscribers in the third quarter of 1996,
most of whom defected to digital satellite TV.
As a consequence, TCI will halt its costly plans to upgrade its existing
cable systems to a higher capacity fibre cable. Instead, the old lines will
be used for transmitting digitally compressed channels. That also means
that TCI will have to accelerate the introduction of set-top boxes.
According to Malone, TCI changed its strategy because digital technology
will enable it to squeeze six times as many channels into its existing
networks. TCI no longer needs to risk capital on unnecessarily upgrading
the capacity of its networks until the new technologies are tested. Cable
modems and telephony services will only be introduced after demand for them
is demonstrated.
TCI shares, which recently suffered from TCI's worse than expected third
quarter results, rose 4 percent following Malone's announcement. He also
forecast up to US$1 billion in free cash flow next year (that's what TCI
calls the amount of cash that's left after paying interest and capital

Digital confusion
"Free broadcast television is perhaps the last great common American
experience [...] For 50 years, Americans have known that the set they buy
in Los Angeles will work in New York and will keep working for years no
matter how technology changes." 
(Neil Braun, president of the NBC television network )
The same applies to most other countries in the world, and it still holds
true for analogue satellite TV. Any owner of a digital receiver, however,
can get a taste of the digital TV future right now. They will, apart from
encryption issued, receive only what you are supposed to watch. Any
software update that's being pumped into your box may change your view on
the (satellite) world drastically.
There's another problem because digital TV is to go terrestrial as well.
U.S. Broadcasters, electronics manufacturers and consumers today charged
Microsoft and a handful of other computer companies of blocking
"competition and progress" in digital television. As a matter of fact,
there still isn't a standard for terrestrial digital TV in the USA. 
There is a proposal, though. It is known as ATSC (Advanced Television
Systems Committee) which by the way reminds me of the colour TV system
NTSC, an abbreviation that soon became "Never the same colour." [Does ATSC
mean "Always the same colour", then? Just wondering.] ATSC is flexible, say
its creators. Several video formats with different screen shapes and
picture-rate options are included, some of them just to serve the needs of
the computer industry. 
But the computer industry didn't like it and turned up with an own
proposal. ATSC members cried foul. That standard was "untested and
ill-defined," it made "no attempt to provide interoperability with other
video service providers, such as cable, satellite and home playback
devices." And it doesn't even incorporate High Definition TV (HDTV)
although, maybe apart from Japan, there seems to be no big demand for it.
In the rest of the world, this TV standard -- which doubles the picture
resolution -- is probably more important to the manufacturers of TV sets
that to the consumer. (The only advantage she will probably get is that the
artefacts stemming from digital compression technology become even more
National Association of Broadcasters President/CEO Edward O. Fritts even
tried to stir up consumers' fears by claiming they "don't want to be forced
to buy new computers and software every year just to watch their favorite
TV programs and they don't want to be left wondering if their computers
will crash in the middle of the evening news. That could happen if
computers ultimately become the delivery vehicle for American television."
Well, funny in a way, because human behaviour makes the computer the least
attractive gadget as far as TV for the masses is concerned. It will thus
never replace the ordinary TV set that unfortunately seems to be the centre
of each so-called civilised household's living room. 
In an "Editorial Backgrounder," broadcasters and manufacturers even try to
link the difficulties in adopting a common standard to the ongoing election
campaign in the USA. Quote: "... opposition from a handful of computer
companies seems to have persuaded the Clinton administration to abandon its
previously stated support for the proposed standard. Eager to placate
computer interests in elector-rich California, the White House [...] forced
the Commerce Department to equivocate in [escape from -- Ed.] its support."

Oh no! Columbo again
MCA Inc. has finalised a deal with the French pay-TV service Canal+,
comprising of an exclusive long term agreement on "theatrical product" for
Canal+  pay television movie services, pay-per-view rights to Universal
Pictures' theatrical product, and creation of Universal branded channels,
designed specifically for France.
The agreement provides carriage of channels, the first of which will be a
Universal branded channel on the Canal+ direct-to-home platform,
Canalsatellite. This channel will be dedicated to action-adventure/mystery
product drawing upon French and European programming as well as Universal's
extensive library of titles from this genre, such as "Columbo," "Magnum,
P.I.," "Murder, She Wrote" and "The A-Team." [Yawn! I watched all these
when I was a child! Don't they have anything new to offer?]
* The rival consortium TPS -- Télévision Par Satellite -- is headed by
commercial broadcaster TF1, owned by Bouygues and France Télévision.
Lyonnaise des Eaux unit M6 and Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Télédiffusion
(CLT) are also part of the alliance. TF1 has recently taken legal action
against Canal+ to stop the company's merger with NetHold. Both TF 1 and
Canal+ hold stakes in pan-European broadcaster Eurosport. TF1 wants at
least the free-to-air sports channel be excluded from the merger, claiming
Canal+/Nethold would otherwise compete with the channel through its own
(albeit encrypted) sports programming. 

SAT.1 announces plans for SAT.2
German free-to-air channel SAT.1 will multiply next year. A spokeswoman
today confirmed long-time rumours about a second outlet for SAT.1
programming that should become possible following expected new legislation.
Current laws allow media companies to run just one full-service channel
like SAT.1 (as opposed to niche channels.) Competitors such as RTL were a
bit more clever and convinced German media authorities that channels such
as RTL 2 and Super RTL had nothing to do with RTL at all. Very funny, but
authorities swallowed that in hope of additional tax revenues for whatever
partial state of Germany allowed those rogue channels to go on air.
SAT.2 will not be the re-invention of SAT.1. Instead, it'll be just another
outlet for programming that can't be shown on SAT.1 anymore because it's
already been exploited to the hilt. In other words: SAT.2 will be a
repeats-only channel.
SAT.1 said it will have no difficulties in finding investors as the new
German media legislation, which hasn't been finalised yet by the way, would
allow single owners to hold multiple channels as long as they don't reach a
total of 30 percent of the market share. In other words: SAT.2 will be
owned by SAT.1 -- the channel is in no danger to reach the 30-percent limit
in the foreseeable future.
Finding a satellite transponder for he channel will, by the way, be much
easier than to get some space on Germany's overcrowded cable networks.

Russian Channel observed in C-band
According to Gregor Bregar, a new Russian channel called BPT (or probably
WRT, maybe even WRG in Latin letters) has launched on GORIZONT 26 (11W.)
He stated the channel was broadcast at 3.725 GHz rhc and added "if isn't
news anymore just forget it." I won't! Thank you very much for your

Copyright 1996 by Peter C. Klanowski, pck@LyNet.De. All rights reserved.

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