Sat-ND, 20.20l.96

Sat-ND 96-12-20 - Satellite and Media News

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Two more satellites, but no more TV
Well, those two satellites launched today may provide some kind of
television service but it is definitely not open for the public. As
recently announced (Sat-ND, 18.12.96,) the USA have launched a spy
satellite from Vandenberg Air Force base. Everything else if classified
except that the launch took place at 10.04 am PST and that "everything is
going as planned," as an Air Force spokesman put it.
Russia also launched a military satellite today. The Kosmos-30M booster
rocket blast off from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in North Russia today at 9.44
Moscow time, lifting this year's tenth KOSMOS satellite into orbit. Last
year, 21 KOSMOS spacecraft were launched and 37 in 1994. The former Soviet
Union launched hundreds of those satellites per year before it broke up.
Depending on what source one believes, this KOSMOS launch was either the
last one in this year or the last but one. 

Ariane 5 more expensive than expected
So far, the development cost of Europe's Ariane 5 rocket were estimated at
US$7 billion. Well, make that U$7.5 billion (ECU5.95 billion.) This latest
figure was issued today by the European Space Agency. The failure of Ariane
5 on its maiden flight adds approximately US$400 million to the total
amount. The additional cost is to be covered by European countries
participating in the Ariane programme and by European aerospace companies.

Al who?
Al-Thurayya, the planned regional satellite telephone system set up by
Etisalat from the United Arab Emirates, came closer today. Ahmed bin Humaid
al-Tayer, Minister of State for Finance and Industrial Affairs and acting
Communications Minister, told the UAE's official news agency WAM  that "We
have reached an advanced stage regarding the formation of the company that
will own and operate the al-Thurayya project." He added that a final
announcement was expected in January. 
The total costs for the system (cf. Sat-ND, 29.10.96) are estimated at
around US$800 million. It is yet undecided what company will finally
provide the system -- two French and an American manufacturer have made

EU okays Iridium
The EU commission has approved Motorola's global satellite network called
Iridium that is to provide digital voice, paging, and basic data services
on a global scale. 
The most remarkable fact about that system is probably that it will be the
first of its kind. Its launch is expected for October 1998 even though the
system's first satellites could not be launched as planned this month owing
to "organisational problems" (Sat-ND, 12.12.96.)
Other services will be running by the end of the decade while the largest
project of its kind, Teledesic, won't be up and running before 2002.

If there's a running gag in Sat-ND, it surely is digital TV in Canada, or
rather: the lack of digital TV in Canada. Well, there are a few companies
that say they can do it -- now. 
Tee-Comm Electronics Inc. announced it had successfully completed
comprehensive testing of its updated Canadian digital satellite earth
station. Their 80-channel AlphaStar Canada service could now start right
away within thirty days of receiving a go-ahead from the Canadian
Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC.)
Since 1995, the CRTC has awarded DTH licenses to three other Canadian
companies, but as yet, none has been able to launch a service. According to
Tee-Comm, their problem has been an inability to find sufficient capacity
on broadcast satellites. It probably was sheer politeness that Tee-Comm did
not mention other hurdles set up by the CRTC. They are aimed at keeping
U.S. programming away from Canadian TV screens to a certain extent, even
though -- or rather: because three quarters of prime time programming on
Canadian channels are of U.S. origin.
Anyway, AlphaStar Canada has no capacity problems but loads of transponder
space on TELSTAR 402R (89E.) Actually, Tee-Comm launched its AlphaStar
U.S. programming service on the same satellite last July.
Said Al Bahnman, President and CEO of Tee-Comm, "We're the only Canadian
company with confirmed satellite space, a full inventory of set-top
receivers, and now a fully-operational digital earth station."
But others do catch up. TCI Satellite Entertainment Inc., by the way no
longer affiliated with U.S. cable giant TCI which spun off the company this
month, has agreed to sell a satellite to Telesat Canada for US$300 million.
TCI satellite will, however, retain the option to lease "certain services"
from Telesat. 
Telesat Canada, an Ottawa satellite telecommunications company, said it
will use the satellite to provide the first digital broadcast satellite
television service in the Canadian market from 91E (Sat-ND, 17.12.96.)

Fishy business
Europe is great. Its beloved politicians come up with new, clever solutions
every time they encounter a problem. The latest problem: fishing quotas.
Did you think you could just get on your boat and catch some fish? Of
course not, in case you do it commercially. 
In order to have their moves tracked by a "Fisheries Monitoring Centre,"
fishing boats longer than 24 metres will be obliged to install and operate
satellite equipment on their vessels.
But no, there's no central Fisheries Monitoring Centre, there's one in each
of the countries involved. Any ship will beam up data to its national
Fishery Monitoring Centre which will then transmit data to the country in
whose waters the boats were fishing.
The satellite system will enable national authorities to monitor the
identity and position of boats, and even the detailed fishing activities
that's going on. Plus, here's the "good" news for all tax payers in Europe:
EU ministers have agreed that full funding to for the necessary equipment
will be provided be the European Union. Capital investment costs will be
covered from a US$254 million fisheries control fund.
The satellites will start to track fishing vessels in certain areas from
June 30, 1998 and the system will become fully operational from January 1,

Disney goes pay-TV in Benelux, Scandinavia
ProNet, the programme acquisition arm of international pay-TV group
NetHold, has signed an exclusive deal with Disney to broadcast recent
productions from Disney, Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures on the GroupAs
FilmNet pay-TV channels in Benelux and Nordic countries. In addition to a
package of about 60 recent titles, the agreement also covers an important
number of well-known movies from Disney's extensive library and various new
TV movies.
FilmNet Television broadcasts two premium movie and general entertainment
channels in the Benelux, and two other ones in the Nordic countries.
FilmNet Television has also launched three premium sports channels called
SuperSport in the Netherlands, Belgium and Nordic countries. FilmNet has a
combined subscription base of over 750,000 for the movie and sports
services in the two regions.
ProNet is the programme acquisition arm and a wholly-owned subsidiary of
NetHold, a leading international pay-TV operator active in 59 countries in
Europe, the Middle East and Africa. NetHold recently announced the merger
of its European activities (Mediterranean excluded) with France's CANAL+,
resulting in the creation of the leading European Pay-TV group with over
8.5 million subscribers.

Merry Xmas, Leo
In case you haven't noticed, it's Christmas time. Of course, I couldn't
care less unless there was that famous prediction by company officials that
Leo Kirch's digital TV service DF1 would have reached 200,000 subscribers
by now.
Of course, it has not. 
Germans sometimes are not as stupid as they may seem. The latest figure
available is 20,000, but it also was available one month ago. I did some
research in local shops recently, asking salespersons about the d-box
decoder that is necessary to receive the DF1 package. First of all, some
shops won't sell the d-box unless you sign a DF1 subscription -- which
actually is no less than consumer fraud committed in order to cash in
commissions. According to official statements, the d-box is an open
platform to receive multiple multimedia services from various sorces, and
not just only Leo Kirch's ridiculous digital TV bouquet. Asked for a
comment, the company that distributes the decoders did not react. Probably
because it happens to be a subsidiary of Leo Kirch's media empire.
Apart from that, I was told that even a 90-cm dish was no guarantee to
receive those digital signals properly. It had to be of high quality and
professionally aligned. "Just last week, we had to go out to two customers
because they had reception problems," said one salesman.
Anyone who wants to perform fancy experiments with those loads of known and
hidden d-box features has a hard time. Even if a shop doesn't cheat you
into a DF1 subscription, it's hard to get a box anyway as they are ordered
in very small numbers only.
PS: Should you wonder whether I bought one of those boxes... of course not!

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

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