Sat-ND, 20.02.1998 -- Sad Tomato
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Rupert al dente
FCC to consider MCI-Rupert satellite deal
Return to sender
So sorry! Yesterday's Sat-ND could not be delivered because yours truly typed in a wrong address. (Yes, we're all getting older I suppose.) I'll send it together with this one. Moo!
Paper satellites don't always stay paper satellites. Three orbital positions, which were reserved by Germany on behalf of a Cologne-based consulting firm almost a century ago, will finally fill with life.
There had been vague rumours here and there, even in Sat-ND (23./25.11.97) where -- admittedly -- they went into a completely wrong direction. Trade magazines got the story right about three weeks ago, and today saw the official announcement of Europe*Star, a joint venture of Loral Space & Communications (USA) and Alcatel Alsthom of France.
The three-satellite Europe*Star system, ideally located between Europe and Asia at 43 degrees, 45 degrees, and 47.5 degrees East, will be the first European Ku-band satellite system to be able to directly connect Europe and Asia in one single hop -- providing telecommunications, high-rate data interchange (Internet, on-line service access), and television and distribution services.
Alcatel Espace of Toulouse, France, will serve as the prime contractor of the Europe*Star turnkey system. Space Systems/Loral, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Loral Space & Communications, will build the bus, and test and integrate the satellites at its Palo Alto, Calif., facility. Alcatel Espace will provide the payload. Overall project costs for the first satellite are estimated at approximately US$300 million.
Europe*Star's satellites will be operated from Alcatel's facilities in Toulouse, France, with the support of Loral Skynet's satellite control facilities in Hawley, Pa.
Europe*Star will join Loral Skynet's "Global Marketing Alliance," a worldwide sales and marketing coalition comprised of Loral Skynet, Satelites Mexicanos, S.A. de C.V. (SatMex), and Orion Network Systems, Inc. As such, Europe*Star's satellite services and capacity will be also globally-marketed by other Loral alliance members through Loral Skynet's global booking service.
Last June, Loral Space & Communications Ltd. and Alcatel Alsthom announced that they have formed a strategic partnership including cross investments in Loral's geostationary CyberStar satellite project and Alcatel's low-Earth orbit SkyBridge project.
The most interesting thing about the press release, by the way, is that not the slightest clue is given as to when the Europe*Star project will become operational.
USELESS FACT: 8 percent of Americans twiddle their thumbs.
There has been a 20-minute communications breakdown between the Mir space station and mission control.
It is not known what caused the blackout. Communications have been re-established but there still are problems, officials said. While the 20-minute silence could in theory be explained by Mir turning away from a communications satellite, the ongoing problems can't.
Last May, Itar-Tass reported that one of the Russian Luch satellites that are mainly used to support space missions had become temporarily defunct. Luch 1 (NORAD 23426) at 16 degrees East, which could be brought to life again, provides radio communications with Mir.
USELESS FACT: The only nation who's name begins with an "A" but doesn't end in an "A" is Afghanistan.
China today marked the 30th anniversary of its space activities. Established on February 20, 1968, the Chinese Research Institute of Space Technology has developed and launched more than 30 satellites.
Chinese news agency Xinhua stated that the Institute has caught up with its world counterparts in satellite design, satellite retrieval and control, one rocket carrying several satellites, synchronous orbiting and other technologies. It noted that over the past two decades under the reform and opening-up policy, the institute has developed both the domestic and overseas markets in satellite launching.
Premier Li Peng wrote an inscription for the institute by the way. It reads: "developing space science and technology, accelerating national economic development."
USELESS FACT: The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, "ko-kou-ko-le," which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."
Three years ago, the government of Malawi announced the introduction of public television by 1998. Reportedly, the project will be delayed.
In any case, pay-TV will be introduced earlier, the Pan African News Agency reported. A Zimbabwean cable operator said it would start operations in Malawi on May 1, rebroadcasting South African and British channels to subscribers. Its Cektor Television (PVP) Ltd. holds a government license.
The planned public channel, TV Malawi, has run into financial troubles after a Malaysian consortium pulled out of the project.
USELESS FACT: Men can read smaller print than women; women can hear better.
Finally I found out that I'm not the only one that finds the activities of Luxembourg-based satellite operator Société Européenne des Satellites (SES) "secretive." This is also how the Wall Street Journal described the venture, adding it was nonetheless "highly successful" -- the company's value is estimated at US$3.5 billion.
However, apart from occasional (usually insignificant) press releases, nothing leaves their headquarters at Château de Betzdorf. This keeps a few rumour-mongers happy who have found ways to make money out of the silliest transponder-guessing games -- but that would justify a separate article.
In principle, it has been expected for quite a while that SES will eventually go public even though an SES spokesman last August said "We have no specific plans and no timetable for an IPO (initial public offering.) The financing of the four satellites under construction is secured so there is no need for an IPO."
There was another reason: two state-held Luxembourg banks have a blocking minority. "They are less interested in a flotation than the private shareholders and would want to see their special status preserved," the spokesman explained. In 1996, SES paid 2.1 billion francs in taxes and franchise fees, making it a major contributor to government revenue.
Back to the Wall Street Journal which reported that SES has changed its mind and was planning to go public by the end of the year. The move, which the shareholders will officially approve on April 15, also had the full support of the Luxembourg government. Company officials reportedly said that a stock listing would allow SES's management to speed up plans to become the key European partner in a global, satellite-based communications network It would also enable SES to raise money on the equity market and facilitate cross-shareholdings with potential partners.
The move may also be related to the fact that SES's main rival, the European Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (Eutelsat) has plans to go commercial become incorporated under French law as a limited liability company later this year.
USELESS FACT: Name of the B-29 that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima : Enola Gay. [...the mother-in-law of one of the pilots, if I remember correctly. Hence the title of the OMD song. More on A-bombs later on.]
Or should I say "Echostar goes Brazil?" Brazilian cable TV operator ("TV Jockey") has teamed up with CR Almeida and Echostar of the U.S. to offer a 100-channel digital TV package, reported Gazeta Mercantil. The companies involved said they would invest US$200 million into their venture.
Using eight Ku-band transponders on the Argentinean Nahuel 1A, the new service hopes to attract no less than 1.5 million subscribers in just four years. The operating DTH satellite services, DirecTV and Sky, have 200,000 and 85,000 subscribers respectively. According to the subscription television association ABTA, there are 2.5 million pay-TV subscribers in Brazil. 71 percent of them use cable, though, 19 percent MMDS (terrestrial microwave systems.) Satellite pay-TV has a market share of 10 percent. However, there are 4 million C-Band receivers in Brazil.
USELESS FACT: 160 cars can drive side by side on the Monumental Axis in Brazil, the world's widest road.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) confirmed it had hired a blind man as a television director. "The BBC aims to reflect all sections of society," a spokeswoman was quoted as saying.
Damon Rose, 27, who lost his sight at 13, told the Sun newspaper "I've always dreamed about being a director -- I don't think being blind will stand in the way." He receives help from another person describing the scene and then gives instructions to a camera operator. Rose has already directed a short film to be broadcast on the BBC Tuesday.
USELESS FACT: Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea which may lead to blindness. [Something for you to comment on, Alf?]
You know what press releases are. Company blurb which poor guys such as me have to edit. The Internet increasingly serves as an additional medium not only to spread the blurb to but spice it up with audio and video clips.
A site that has specialised on those multimedia "streams" is run by Newstream. The company tried to tell the public today that "peanuts are not only tasty & nutritious" but may also serve as astronauts' food. To that purpose, it offers an audio clip containing comments from NASA research project director Phil Loretan.
Peanuts in space? Newstream cites two reasons. First:: "When the first mission to Mars blasts off in the next century, peanuts may be going along for the ride. Astronauts won't be able to bring enough food for their entire three-year mission, so they'll have to grow some of it in space." Second: "Researchers have found that peanut plants can help purify the air that astronauts breathe."
Great! The only thing about this is that NASA recently put all manned interplanetary missions on halt indefinitely. Those air-purifying peanut plants will have to stay where they are right now for the time being, I suppose.
USELESS FACT: After 45 years of TV, most people still turn to their local newspaper to find out what they want to see on the tube. Most will still turn to their newspaper to find out what they want to see on the Internet.
by Dr Sarmaz
Surprise, surprise. Terrestrial digital TV in the UK will not, I repeat: <flash><blink><sensational>WILL NOT</blink></flash></sensational> use Rupert Murdoch's set-top box technology.
Instead, the terrestrial digital TV venture BDB has awarded a key technology contract to Franco-German group SECA held by Canal Plus of France and Bertelsmann AG of Germany. BDB said it chose the SECA technology over that of News Datacom, a unit of BSkyB's major shareholder News Corp Ltd. because the system is tried and tested in more than 1.5 million digital set top boxes across Europe. [Funnily enough, it's no longer used in Germany as Bertelsmann wants to team up with its former rival, Kirch group, to set up a digital TV monopoly. They had to accept his set-top box for their Premiere Digital bouquet. So, who knows, maybe they have to get rid of the SECA boxes that might already have been ordered?]
BSkyB has reacted by expressing its "concern" [and judging from other European set-top box wars this may also be regarded as an announcement or even a threat] that the SECA boxes may not be compatible with Sky's digital satellite services. BSkyB chief executive Mark Booth was quoted as saying that "BDB have both regulatory and contractual commitments to ensure that their box is compatible with ours. If necessary, we will take legal action to protect the consumer" [or rather News Corp's interests, cynics might add. You naughty cynics you! People like you would even dare ask who on Earth had the dim-witted idea of raising Mr Murdoch's technology to a de-facto standard.]
A spokesman for BDB claimed that SECA's technology has "the capacity to be inter-operable with Sky's programme services." BDB plans to launch its 15-channel digital terrestrial service in the last quarter of this year. BSkyB is to launch its satellite service next June.
USELESS FACT: A firm in Britain sold fall-out shelters for pets.[For the younger readers: fall-out is the by-product of atom bomb explosions. Well, thanks to the U.S. of A. we may get the opportunity to study that in the Middle East real soon. Did any U.S. official rule out the use of A-bombs there? Of course not, and it's such a long time since they've been tested first in Japan. Researches desperately need some new data.]
No, this is not Mr Murdoch's Italian journey part two. He tried to buy a majority stake in Mediaset, the TV holding of Sua Emittenza Silvio Berlusconi in 1995, but that was then.
Dottore Berlusconi, TV mogul, once short-time prime minister and now leader of Italy's rightist opposition, said that alliances were a logical step for the broadcaster, and named News Corp's Rupert Murdoch as a possible partner.
However, it seems that Berlusconi's Mediaset is not looking for investors but tries to sell programming all over Europe. He's been trying to do that for years, by the way. The Italian press however was reportedly interpreting the Murdoch-Berlusconi talks as a sign that Mr Murdoch wants to purchase a controlling stake in Berlusconi's three television networks. This is indeed quite unlikely as a similar deal fell trough in 1995.
On the other hand, the digital future of Mediaset is unclear as it could not reach an agreement with the Italian digital platform offered by pay-TV channel Telepiù, now controlled by France's Canal Plus and its Italian partners. Observers said Mediaset, once the driving power behind Telepiù that had to withdraw because of regulatory action, could consider setting up a digital service of their own.
The true irony in all that is that Mediaset, which is (instead of being owned by Mr Murdoch) is now traded publicly, is indeed trading at multiples lower than that of other European media groups. Analysts said this was mainly because of Dottore Berlusconi's ongoing urge to give a politician.
USELESS FACT: When Italy was founded in 1861, only 3 percent of Italians spoke Italian fluently.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it would consider whether restrictions were needed on companies seeking to own both cable television and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) services.
That apllies mainly to the US$1.1 billion sale of a major DBS satellite slot by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and MCI Communications Corp. to PrimeStar Partners, owned jointly by several major cable operators. The FCC has told the companies it will not rule on the transaction before April.
"It should be the policy of this commission to promote competition whenever and wherever we can," FCC Chairman William Kennard said, calling direct broadcast satellite "probably the greatest hope to us" to bring competition to cable. While there is virtually no competition on the U.S. cable market that is held by local monopolies, satellite broadcast services have grown rapidly as an alternative and currently serve more than 5 million viewers.
The News Corp./MCI deal, which involves selling the last remaining DBS slot with full coverage of the United States to Primestar, has raised doubt on maintaining competition between the two distribution methods.
USELESS FACT: Pepsi originally contained pepsin, therefore the name. [Bullshit, I know! Any comments on that Alfie?]
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