Satellite Television Pays Off for Eutelsat

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  Space News Business

Satellite Television Pays Off for Eutelsat

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 22 February 2007
03:10 pm ET


PARIS — Satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat Communications said its financial performance over the six months ending Dec. 31 reflects the continued growth and high profitability of satellite television in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and Central Asia.

The Paris-based company, which is the world’s third-largest commercial satellite fleet operator in terms of revenues, also embraced the newfound simplicity of its shareholding structure.

Following recent transactions among its shareholders, Eutelsat is now 31.96 percent owned by Spanish public-works builder Abertis, with 26.15 percent held by CDC Infrastructure of France, a subsidiary of a government-owned financial institution. The remaining 41.89 percent is publicly traded on the Paris-based Euronext stock exchange.

In conference calls Feb. 15, Eutelsat Chief Executive Giuliano Berretta did not address whether the new shareholders would be more likely to encourage Eutelsat to take part in the global industry consolidation of the past three years. Berretta has said in the past that while Eutelsat has been watching the mergers and acquisitions of competitors from the sidelines, it has nonetheless found a way to grow profitably.

The company reported Feb. 15 that for the six months ending Dec. 31, revenues were up 5.2 percent, to 415.3 million euros ($540 million). EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was 329.6 million euros, equivalent to 79.4 percent of revenues.

As of Dec. 31, Eutelsat’s 23-satellite fleet was 82.2 percent full.

The company said that for its fiscal year ending June 30 it expects to report more than 800 million euros in revenues and projected a growth rate over the course of the following two years of about 4.5 percent per year.

More than ever, Eutelsat is focusing on video distribution, which Berretta said remains by far the most profitable business in satellite communications. Video programming now represents 70 percent of Eutelsat revenues, with near-term growth potential in Eastern and Western Europe as these regions adopt high-definitition television (HDTV) programming.

HDTV uses more satellite capacity than standard-definition television even with the new MPEG-4 compression technology. Eutelsat was broadcasting 17 HDTV channels as of Dec. 31. Berretta said the availability of MPEG-4 gear continues to be an issue that could slow the market growth of HDTV broadcasts.

New regional broadcasters in the Middle East, Central Asia, Turkey and elsewhere helped increase the total number of TV channels being broadcast across the Eutelsat fleet to 1,339 as of Dec. 31– a 24 percent increase compared to the end of 2005.

Berretta said the long-promised delivery of Internet Protocol television is not yet making substantial inroads in Europe and is not yet a serious threat to cable or satellite television despite the aggressive commercial campaigns of DSL broadband service providers.

Eutelsat lost out to competitor SES Global of Luxembourg earlier this year when the Canal Plus pay-television service purchased rival TPS, a company that represents around 2.5 percent of Eutelsat’s revenue base.

The merged company decided to put all of its business on the SES Global satellite fleet. SES Global told investors Feb. 14 that in 2007 alone, the growth in business from Canal Plus following the decision will be equivalent to the revenue lost when the large NSS-8 telecommunications satellite was destroyed in a Jan. 30 launch failure.

It remains unclear how big an effect the Canal Plus decision will have on Eutelsat. The TPS transponder-lease contracts that Canal Plus acquired include a 10-year commitment that ends in 2014. Berretta said Canal Plus will be obliged to pay a hefty penalty if it cancels the contract before then.

As of Feb. 15, Berretta said, Canal Plus had not informed Eutelsat of any change in plans.