The transfer ofleadership from long-serving Chief Executive Romain Bausch to Karim Michel Sabbagh has been viewed as a strong signal that SES’s board views emerging markets as where the company’s success will be won or lost in the coming years.
Luxembourg-based SES, now with 55 satellites, no longer can count on a revenue pop from even a large spacecraft entering service. The company said recently that in addition to the three satellites on order, three more dedicated to new markets, plus three mainly replacement spacecraft, would be put under contract in the coming months.
What will be interesting to see in the coming years is how SES — and its fellow global or multiregional satellite fleet operators — manage relations with national satellites. These new players, often with only one satellite, threaten SES’s growth at least at the margins.
As it has grown, SES has become a more diversified purveyor of satellite bandwidth. The company has said it does not believe in the market for consumer satellite broadband in Europe, but 120,000 Newtec-built Ku- and Ka-band terminals have been delivered.
SES is a minority shareholder, for now, in the O3b Networks constellation in medium Earth orbit, which should count eight satellites after a scheduled July launch of four, and a further four satellites set for launch in 2015.
As it has become stronger, SES has become more involved in the satellite hardware and launch vehicle side of its business. It has acted as a midwife to Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 rocket for the commercial market, been active with European governments in the debate over a next-generation Ariane rocket and made a small investment in a European electric-propulsion satellite design.
One of the company’s least-discussed successes is what it calls its services division, which purchases bandwidth from SES satellites, usually at full rate, for a range of customers and thereby drives business to SES’s fleet. Not long ago, the services business reported EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, margins of around 10 percent, and even less. By 2012, SES had improved this division’s profitability to 14.9 percent. It was 17 percent in 2013.
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