Asian Satellite Fleet Operators Draw a Bead on Indonesia

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WASHINGTON — Asian satellite fleet operators said Indonesia is likely to be the next big battlefield for market share as that nation’s largely untapped direct-broadcast television market opens up.

Measat, AsiaSat, SES, APT Satellite Holdings and Sky Perfect JSat appear to be tripping over themselves to establish positions in Indonesia now that the government has licensed several direct-to-home (DTH) television broadcasters.

But these operators said the growth depends in part on the regulatory regime put into place by Indonesian authorities. If it follows the model of India, they suggested, the market might be slower to develop.

India recently surpassed the United States as the nation with the most satellite television customers, but non-Indian satellite operators are obliged to access the market through the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which is both a competitor — ISRO has its own fleet of telecommunications satellites — and regulator.

Tokyo-based Sky Perfect JSat is counting on its JCSat 13 all-Ku-band satellite, set for launch in May, to provide revenue growth to the company through its Southeast Asia beam, for which Indonesia is a central focus, according to Yutaka Nagai, senior executive vice president at Sky Perfect JSat.

Yau Chyong Lim, vice present for business development strategic planning at Malaysian operator Measat, said his company, which has been expanding its reach despite the fact that its owner has indicated he wants to sell it, also has eyes on Indonesia.

“This is a country with 40 million households and a pay-TV penetration of only 2 million, so it has great potential,” Yau said. “There are 10 licensed DTH operators, but only six are active. Not everyone is making money.”

Hong Kong-based APT Satellite Holdings already does a thriving business in Indonesia, mainly to provide satellite backhaul services for terrestrial cellular operators. APT Vice President Huang Baozhong said Indonesia is APT’s single largest market.

Deepak Mathur, senior vice president for Asia-Pacific and Middle East at Luxembourg-based SES, agreed that cellular backhaul remained an opportunity in Indonesia and that television distribution has “tremendous potential” there given the current low market penetration of pay television.

Asian satellite operators mostly agree that from a strictly business point of view, there are too many satellite owners in Asia, especially East Asia.

“Put just about any two operators in Asia together in a merger and the result will be a better business case,” said Willy Chow, chief financial officer of Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) of Hong Kong. “But I don’t see it happening in the near term.”

What ABS and other Asian fleet operators have been able to do is join forces without merging. ABS recently joined with Satmex of Mexico to purchase a combined four satellites from Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems at a price that would not have been available to them if the order had been for fewer satellites.

AsiaSat of Hong Kong and Thailand’s Thaicom agreed to divide the cost of a satellite to preserve a Thai orbital position. Measat and NewSat of Australia agreed to purchase capacity on each other’s satellites.

“M&A deals are notoriously difficult in Asia,” said Philip Balaam, vice president for business development at AsiaSat. “The way we did it [with Thaicom] was probably the only solution available to us.” Balaam said that in the past 12 months alone, Asian operators have ordered 12 spacecraft.

Nongluck Phinainitisart, chief commercial officer of Thaicom, agreed, pointing to the joint investment with AsiaSat and a partnership with Measat to allow Thaicom’s IPStar broadband satellite service to better access the Malaysian market.

Thaicom has also struck a deal with NBN Co. of Australia, a government agency that just ordered two Ka-band broadband satellites, to use IPStar for five years while waiting for the Australian-owned spacecraft to arrive.

“The geostationary arc over Asia is getting very crowded,” Mathur said. “Cooperation will be encouraged by virtue of physics. The Asian [satellite] market is not super-healthy. Yes there is growth, but the economics are not very favorable.”