Today's issue of this so-called newsletter is a very special one. Actually, I'd even call it a historic first. What exactly is so special about it? I will tell you in a few day's time, but I really wonder whether anyone notices it. If you think you know what I'm talking about, please drop me a note. (No, I don't mean the concentration of Australian news. That's just a coincidence and not really a historic feat in itself.)
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Australis has been on the brink of insolvency since November 1997 when its shares, last traded at five cents, were suspended by the Australian Stock Exchange.
Australis's major cost is the set up of its satellite television broadcasting service, the main cause of the group's reported accumulated losses of more than A$700 million since it started in 1993. Australis's main asset is a 25-year film distribution agreement with fellow pay-TV group Foxtel, which is jointly owned by News Corp Ltd and Telstra Corp Ltd. Australis receives about A$6 each month from Foxtel's 300,000 paying viewers.
Australis battled for almost two years in two separate attempts to push through a proposed merger with its biggest rival, Foxtel, but was knocked back both times by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on the grounds that it would reduce competition.
News Corp has argued that the Australis-Foxtel film distribution agreement be terminated if Australis is insolvent. No way, says receiver-manager Peter Walker: "That is our principal asset and we will be looking to maintain that, because it is the core part of the business."
Analysts said it was nontheless possible that either News Corp. or Kerry Packer's Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd (PBL) might make an offer to Australis' foreign bondholders to buy Australis's assets. Australis's other major asset, its satellite infrastructure, may attract Austar as a potential buyer, which provides pay TV services via satellite in regional Australia.
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"The bank was chosen by competitive tender for one of the largest lease financing deals this year," said CBA head of corporate finance Irene Lee. "This transaction continues the Commonwealth Bank's dominance as the sole arranger and funder of domestic satellite financing in Australia," she added.
Following a recent Federal Court decision, there had been some uncertainty about large-scale leasing deals such as this. The CBA however said it has developed a unique and proprietary structure that complied with current taxation requirements.
The move comes on the heels of a A$450 million bank finance facility. Last March, Optus also raised A$390 million through a rights issue to its shareholders. Optus is 49-percent owned by the UK's Cable & Wireless plc while Australia's Mayne Nickless Ltd. has a 25-percent stake.
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SingTel signed an agreement to join the project in December 1995 with Singapore Technologies Telemedia and four Chinese partners--China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General, China Aero-Space Corp., China Unicom Satellite Telecommunication Co. Ltd., and China Telecommunications Broadcast Satellite Corp. The project also includes investors from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
APMT is intended to provide seamless mobile telecommunciation services--including voice, facsimile and data transmissions--across the Asia-Pacific region using a satellite system and a network of ground relay stations. The launch of the satellite was originally expected in January 1997 aboard a Chinese Chang Zheng (Long March) rocket but was delayed several times since then--officially for technical reasons.
A company statement said the project no longer meets SingTel's business requirements, given its already extensive investments in both satellite and submarine cable networks. SingTel spokesmen said the company had not yet made any actual investment in the venture.
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Premier League officials and Murdoch's British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) were reported to be on the verge of completing a deal which would mean only the four least interesting games would be played on Saturdays.
Traditionally, football matches in Britain were played on Saturdays. According to The Daily Mail, up to four matches will be played on Sunday afternoons under a new deal. They will be shown on Sky Sports and BSkyB's digital satellite channels expected to be introduced later this year.
A media consultancy company commissioned by the Premier League has forecast that the new system could generate an extra UKP250 million by 2001.
The possible move has, however, angered the 300,000-strong National Federation of Supporters' Clubs as well as the Catholic Church which complained that "Sunday is quickly becoming like any other day."
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The Independent Television Commission's (ITC) annual performance review for 1997 said the channel, which was established partly to increase innovation and experimentation on British television, lost some of its drive in 1997.
The report said more in-depth science programmes were needed and that the scheduling of foreign language films should be improved.
The ITV network was criticised for again relying on crime and emergency services shows, as well as more programmes about the paranormal.
The ITC also noted a low-budget look to some of daytime shows broadcast during the first nine months of Channel 5, the latest and last terrestrial commercial channel.
Of course, there was also praise in abundance: for Channel 4, its diversity and its ability to satisfy minority tastes as well as for ITV and its "consistently high quality of a lot of its output." Channel 5 was applauded for bringing a freshness and vitality to programme strands like its news, children's and religious shows.
The ITC director of programmes, Sarah Thane, was quoted as saying it was the ITC's job to point out weaknesses in scheduling rather than taking sanctions against the channels.
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According to sources at the Commission, proposals made last week such as the sale of 25 percent of Kirch's movie rights were "not enough" to alleviate its fears about the creation of a dominant position in the German-speaking pay-TV market.
As a consequence, the Commission's competition department is expected propose to ban the deal in a preliminary draft decision at the meeting of the merger advisory committee tomorrow, Wednesday.
The final ruling, however, is expected for June 3. According to Commission sources, Kirch and Bertelsmann officials said "they would submit something in writing." 'Something' in this context means new proposals that would open the digital TV market for competition.
The deal involves CLT-UFA, the joint venture between Bertelsmann unit UFA and Luxembourg's CLT, and Kirch to take joint control of pay-TV company Premiere and to merge it with Kirch's unsuccessful digital company DF1.
Under the terms of the deal, former telecommunications monopoly Deutsche Telekom and CLT-UFA also would share control in BetaResearch with Kirch. BetaResearch is a 100-percent subsidiary of Kirch, which owns exclusive and unlimited licences for the d-box set-top decoder boxes.
Kirch officials earlier said the DF1 service would be scrapped should the deal fall through. Bertelsmann, whose officials meanwhile are openly discussing the future of digital TV "after Brussels," in case of a ban is expected to continue developing digital TV services in Germany on its own, although on a much smaller scale than planned.
For all Super-Karel fans: http://nutcweb.tpc.nwu.edu/CURRENT/patterson/lecturers/miert.html
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They have castrated their basic package down to TNT/Cartoon Network with CNN and a handful of advertorial and self promotional channels for A$9.95 per month with a A$29.95 connection fee. This is a drop from the cheapest previous service cost of around $35 (also Optus) with Galaxy and Foxtel at around A$40-48 per month. The sweetener is that the new $9.95 Optus basic also delivers the five local free to air (FTA) channels. Of course, if you want to watch a Pay TV movie or documentary there are other tiers of price packaging waiting for you.
This new deal is certain to attract single television homes in the major cities' growing television reception shadow areas, where an FTA antenna installation is expensive (A$500+) or not even an option. Indeed many homes in such areas have already accepted the monthly fee as their only way of getting FTA (nothing's free) with little regard for the Pay-TV channels that also come down the cable.
Will the others follow suit? I expect Foxtel to play a waiting game and keep a close eye on disconnects (churn... yawn, although this time it may be true) before they move. Churning Foxtel customers can expect a thorough grilling (nicely read though) from customer service officers and be offered temptations to stay on board. Optus have used this tactic well in the past, offering to cut the monthly charge almost in half for 'selected clients' who wanted to cut the cable. Foxtel appears to be better established than Optus, offers a different programme package and can expect some customer loyalty from those who want the Pay channels. For those whose motivation is low cost access to FTA, Foxtel may have to compete if the numbers are significant.
Galaxy, along with their regional distributors Austar and East Coast TV, cannot compete with this promotion as their delivery is via microwave or satellite and lacks either the capacity or broadcast licences to accommodate the five FTA channels. Expect the lawyers to be dusting off their wigs and using the breath freshener real soon.
Those who choose Optus' new intro package can surely look forward to a bombardment of advertising (self promotion) if they dare to go channel surfing and stray away from FTA. The two Pay channels included with the new basic service, Cartoon Network and CNN, are perfect pit stops for a short span of attention, and lots of commercial breaks invite you to take advantage of more choices for more money. I can hear the kids already: "Dad we've just got to have the channel with the man in the rubber suit, everybody else can get it."
Some antenna men (friendly chaps who bolt coat hangers to chimneys to get channel 9) have expressed concern that this new cheap cable access may have an affect on their slice of the television cake, but for the most part their concern is unfounded. Single TV homes in very poor reception areas maybe, but the average Australian suburban family home has 2.5 TVs and 1.5 video recorders (the missing .5 are the bits my son lost when he was fixing them).
To connect the second plus sets, Optus charges A$10.00 installation and $12.00 per month for each additional set top box. For a three TV home this calculates to a first year cost of $457.95 (29.95+10+10 install, then 10+12+12 per month) and ever ongoing costs of A$408.00 per year at the current rate. and this just for FTA and bombardment TV. Pay more and there's more to choose from! Don't worry antenna men, there's plenty of cake yet. Australia has a great FTA television service which re-runs of stuff my grandparents didn't bother to watch won't knock off in the foreseeable future.
Interestingly, Optus Vision has no dedicated Web site. A URL request, or a search, for optusvision is automatically redirected to the Optus Net site; a big site which gloats about Optus mobile phone, Internet access and cable data. Wonder why such a high tech multinational doesn't want to promote its Pay TV arm (tentacle) on the web. In fact the only Optus Vision hit that I got was a page with photos of ugly overhead cables and a dislike for their owners:
There's something about Optus Vision, though, at
But it seems to have been last updated in 1996 and offers mostly dead links. The official Optus site is at
I did however find Optus Vision in the phone book and was greeted by one of those wonderful recorded voice services saying, "Welcome. If your stupid, please press one. If you need help finding one, please press two."
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A new priest at his first mass was so nervous he could hardly speak. After Mass he asked the monsignor how he had done. The monsignor replied "When I am worried about getting nervous on the pulpit, I put a glass of vodka next to the water glass. If I start getting nervous, I take a sip."
So next Sunday he took the monsignor's advice. At the beginning of the sermon, he got nervous and took a drink. He proceeded to talk up a storm. Upon his return to his office after Mass, he found the following note on the door:
Sip the Vodka, don't gulp.
There are 10 commandments, not 12.
There are 10 disciples, not 12.
Jesus was consecrated, not constipated.
Jacob wagered his donkey, he did not bet his ass.
We do not refer to Jesus Christ as the "late J.C."
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are not referred to as Daddy, Junior and the Spook.
David slew Goliath, he did not kick the shit out of him.
When David was hit by a rock and knocked off his donkey, don't say he was stoned off his ass.
We do not refer to the cross as the "Big T"
When Jesus broke the bread at the Last Supper, he said "Take this and eat it for it is my body." He did not say "Eat me".
The Virgin Mary is not called "Mary with the Cherry".
The recommended grace before a meal is not: "Rub-A-Dub-Dub, thanks for the grub, Yeah, God"
Next Sunday there will be a taffy pulling contest at St. Peter's, not a peter pulling contest at St. Taffy's"
Yes, it's already become a tradition; so here's a quickie, sent in by Vittorio as well.
Q: What's a magnetic field?
A: Everyone knows it! A magnetic field is a place where you grow magnets.
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