AsiaSat says pricing pressure now coming from all fronts
PARIS—Satellite fleet operator AsiaSat on March 16 reported lower revenue for 2015 and told investors to expect more heavy weather this year as the regional bandwidth-capacity glut continues to force down transponder prices.
Hong Kong-based AsiaSat Chairman Ju Wei Min, in a statement to shareholders, said the company was being squeezed from just about every angle.
Global satellite operators faced with stagnant top lines are hunting new business in Asia, Ju said. Regional fleet operators, hoping to maintain market share as they wait for better days, are dropping transponder prices.
As if that’s not enough, several Asian governments have launched or are preparing to launch their own, national satellites, “increasing supply and in some cases restricting market access to foreign satellite operators,” Ju said, predicting that 2016 would be “a very challenging year for AsiaSat and the satellite industry as a whole.”
AsiaSat is counting on the adoption of high-definition television by many of its broadcast network customers, and the start of ultra-high-definition programming, known as 4K, to provide growth in transponder demand.
Like many other operators, the company is eyeing new business for broadband mobile delivery to land, sea and aeronautical markets to stem the decline in conventional demand.
In AsiaSat’s specific case, the newly won access to the mainland Chinese video market for the first time in nine years also offers growth potential.
AsiaSat had been counting on receiving Chinese landing rights in 2015, and had positioned its AsiaSat 6 and AsiaSat 8 – both launched in mid-2014 – to harvest new business.
But the licenses were delayed and much of the satellites’ capacity remained idle.
“We had expected to secure a key deal with a leading customer in the region that would have taken up nearly all of AsiaSat 6’s capacity,” Ju said in reference to one of the contracts – apparently mainly Chinese — that did not materialize because of regulatory issues. Half of AsiaSat 6 is used by Thaicom of Thailand.
The license for China was granted earlier this year, and AsiaSat 6 has begun carrying Chinese broadcasters, AsiaSat said.
Asia, and particularly East Asia, has long been perhaps the world’s most competitive market. Multiple national satellite operators have popped up in recent years, adding to the oversupply. At some point this expansion will stop as Asia runs out of governments that do not have their own flags in orbit.
But there is no indication that a reversal of the trend, meaning a consolidation of the many players, will follow.
It’s not just Asia. The same trend is occurring in Latin America. Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat’s outgoing chief executive, Michel de Rosen, lamented the trend March 10 during the Satellite 2016 conference in National Harbor, Maryland, sasying the new operators were unlikely to build long-term businesses.
He was quickly upbraided by Tom Choi, chief executive of ABS.
ABS is based in Bermuda but has been active in Asia and has purchased little-used satellites owned by national operators as it has grown its fleet. But Choi defended smaller governments’ decisions on national-sovereignty grounds.
“We, as the satellite industry, should not be making blanket statements that all national systems are not economic,” Choi said. “They can be economic and they should invest in them.
“What has really happened in our industry? The top 3-4 satellite operators have a 90 percent market share in our industry. That means 3-4 countries are occupying 90 percent of the geosynchronous spectrum. The revenues that are generated are flowing from all the countries around the world to these 3-4 operators.
“So it’s essentially that rules developed by the ITU and certain smart countries have created this incredible infrastructure in an indirect form of colonialism or imperialism in spectrum.”
AsiaSat operates six satellites in geostationary orbit and has one on order. Asiasat-9, under construction by Space Systems Loral of Palo Alto, California, is scheduled for launch by early 2017 aboard an International Launch Services Proton rocket.
For the 12 months ending Dec. 31, AsiaSat said, its fleet was 72 percent full, down from 75 percent a year ago. The aging AsiaSat 3S is operating from 150.5 degrees east and has been leased to other satellite operators to protect orbital positions. Two Indonesian operators, both planning satellites, have laid claim to the 150.5-degree east slot.
Revenue for the year was 1.31 billion Hong Kong dollars, or $169.2 million at end-2015 exchange rates, down 4 percent in local-currency terms on lower average new-customer transponder prices and non-renewal of several contracts. Profit, at 440 million Hong Kong dollars, was down 21 percent for the same reasons.
But new orders in 2015 were up 49 percent over 2015, totaling 533 million Hong Kong dollars.