By Shaun Lim
As more viewers consume on-demand content on-the-go, a new paradigm has emerged for the satellite broadcast industry as operators look to navigate new challenges and seek new growth opportunities.
“Many viewers are transiting to more digital and personalised viewing experiences, opting to watch content online or on their mobile devices,” Gaurav Kharod, Regional Vice-President, Asia-Pacific Sales, Intelsast, told APB+. “This has changed how distributors approach video delivery via cable TV, satellite TV, IPTV, and over-the-top (OTT) while ensuring they meet the demand for content delivery across different screens including mobile phones, tablets, PCs and not just TVs.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, while pay-TV market penetration continues to grow due to increased OTT and IPTV penetration, Intelsat expects revenue growth in the market to experience “sluggish growth” over the next few years.
This, said Gaurav, can be attributed to the continued churn away from cable TV towards IPTV and OTT subscriptions, as well as a drop in average revenue per user (ARPU) for pay-TV across the region.
He continued, “The IPTV and OTT growth rides on the popularity of bundled deals in the region that include broadband, telephony, and cheaper pay-TV services. Whilst satellite and cable TV will likely remain stable in pockets where terrestrial infrastructures have a hard time reaching Asia Pacific’s vast region with large rural populations and poor connectivity.
“These changes pose quite a few challenges to the traditional model of satellite broadcasting, which was very well suited for linear delivery of content to TV sets. It’s essential for satellites to adapt quickly to these new trends and continue to be a part of the distribution ecosystem which is moving more towards non-linear on-demand viewership.”
For Intelsat, the focus remains on working with their media customers to help them solve evolving and long-term distribution needs through the strength of the company’s traditional linear distribution services, which are now augmented by cloud, IP, and managed services. “This hybrid mix of delivery solutions beyond satellite is key to supporting our media customers to maximise viewership and revenues across multiple platforms and technologies,” Kharod highlighted.
Another satellite operator that is having to adapt to the increasing number of content subscribers moving to online streaming services is Malaysia’s MEASAT. With on-demand streaming continuing to dominate viewing habits, satellite broadcasting services are being adversely impacted in the two main areas of direct-to-home (DTH) services and linear channel distribution, according to Ganendra Selvaraj, Chief Commercial Officer, MEASAT.
“DTH platforms face subscriber churn as the cord-cutting trend is on the rise, hence they are being extremely prudent by maintaining a large bouquet of linear channels, affecting carriage contracts with broadcasters and our ability to grow our channel distribution business.
“We see this trend continuing in the years to come, with broadband continuing to proliferate in every corner of the world,” he explained.
For MEASAT, this means that the key emerging challenge is to keep the overall satellite service relevant to their customer base, and to continuously evolve. For instance, advancements in satellite technology are now enabling satellites to provide broadband services, in turn providing satellite providers with the capability to offer broadcast and broadband services simultaneously, Ganendra pointed out.
Already facing challenges such as piracy and pricing pressures, the proliferation of OTT services for consuming video content has compelled satellite broadcasting to adapt and recalibrate in recent years, observed Hamad Al Mannai, Vice-President, Commercial, Es’hailSat.
“For 2024, the key challenges for the satellite broadcast industry will be to provide converged solutions to customers, that leverage upon the reach of satellite and the cost-effectiveness of Internet delivery both on the contribution and on the distribution side of the business,” he predicted.
Hamad is also of the firm belief that satellite broadcasting will continue to be vital to content consumption, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, where a large segment of the population lives outside the urban areas.
“Internet delivery, especially the last mile, is not uniform in its ability to provide quality of service and consistency in viewing experience to the end user,” said Hamad. “A lot depends on the number of active users, the size of the Internet pipe and the overall content delivery mechanism all of which have too many moving parts for any one player to control completely.
“Satellite broadcasting continues to be the most cost-effective way to provide a high quality of signal to the maximum number of viewers.”
For MEASAT and Intelsat, the verdict is equally unanimous.
Satellite broadcasting will remain critical for governmental channels and ubiquitous public messaging, and is key for geographically diverse markets like Indonesia and the Philippines where terrestrial technologies may not be economically viable in certain regions, said MEASAT’s Ganendra. “Therefore, satellite broadcasting will remain vital in the near term, especially since there are markets in the Asia-Pacific with poor Internet connectivity and distributed cable head-ends.”
He cited the example of the Philippines, where the presence of thousands of small to medium legitimate cable TV heads spread across the country means satellite broadcasting is required to receive linear channels to distribute pay-TV channels to subscribers. “DTH remains the most economical means to deliver pay-TV services in the fastest way possible for emerging markets.”
The Asia-Pacific region is home to about 60% of the world’s population, yet more than one-third of this population is still unconnected via broadband. This reason alone provides a compelling reason why traditional satellite broadcasting remains the best methodology to deliver content to many households in the Asia-Pacific region, argued Intelsat’s Gaurav.
He added, “Although competition for audiences across different distribution technologies is fierce, linear TV consumption still reigns strong. Satellite will continue to play a vital role, as it embraces the ever-evolving landscape.”
As part of this ongoing evolution, content providers are increasingly taking advantage of what IP transport has to offer for contribution and distribution. More importantly, hybrid networks that blend different transport technologies to balance security, capacity, latency, and availability, would be key to the distribution of content in the future, said Gaurav.
“Such hybrid networks would help maximise technology benefits to expand distribution reach, content affordability and consumer convenience,” he added.
In part two of this special report on satellite broadcasting, APB+ continues the conversation with Intelsat, MEASAT and Es’hailSat on the key enabling technologies and strategies that are enabling satellite broadcasters to thrive in an OTT world.