Satellite TV Outpaces Cable in Germany, SES Survey Finds

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PARIS — Satellite television increased its lead over cable in Germany in 2012, reaching more than 18 million households by December despite the midyear termination of analog transmissions, satellite fleet operator SES announced Feb. 19.

In its annual survey of television reception in Europe’s biggest market, SES said satellite television households numbered 18.07 million at the end of 2012, up 3 percent from a year earlier.

Cable television reception in Germany declined by 3 percent during the same period, to 16.7 million households, according to SES. The long-held lead of cable over satellite in Germany ended in mid-2011.

“The gap of 1.4 million households compared to cable exceeds even our most optimistic forecasts,” said Wolfgang Elsaesser, managing director of Astra Deutschland, SES’s German arm.

Since 2009, the number of cable television subscribers in Germany has declined by 10 percent, while satellite subscribers have increased by 11.5 percent, according to SES figures.

Digital terrestrial television, which had lost subscribers in 2011, reversed the trend in 2012, increasing its subscriber base by 12 percent, to 2.05 million homes.

IPTV, or Internet-delivered television, was up 1 percent to 1.26 million homes, according to the survey.

Luxembourg-based SES is still recovering from Germany’s April 2012 analog switch-off, which deprived the company of highly profitable satellite bandwidth lease contracts in which broadcasters could place only one channel on a 36-megahertz transponder. Moving to digital broadcasting and the associated signal compression allows broadcasters to load 10 channels or more on the same transponder.

SES spokesman Markus Payer said Feb. 19 that as of the end of 2011, 1.8 million German homes were still watching analog satellite TV. It is not clear where these viewers went after the April cutoff, but apparently many upgraded to digital satellite reception.

Payer said the total number of television households in Germany increased in 2012, but by just 200,000 homes, to reach 38.1 million.

The short-term hit SES has taken from vacated transponders following the analog switch-off could give way to a longer-term advantage if, as the company believes, satellite technology can maintain its lead in high-definition television (HDTV) broadcasting.

That is where the market is growing fastest, for both satellite and terrestrial television broadcasts, and where satellite fleet operators hope to regain some of the ground they lost, in terms of transponder occupancy, in the move from analog to digital.

According to the SES survey, 44 percent of German satellite-television homes — 7.9 million households — were receiving HDTV transmissions by the end of 2012. That is an increase of 33 percent over a year earlier.

Cable subscribers were also moving to HDTV at a fast clip, but the numbers still trailed satellite. At the end of 2012, cable was delivering HDTV to 4.53 million German homes, an increase of 39 percent from a year earlier. But that still meant just 29 percent of cable subscribers were receiving HDTV.

An HDTV channel requires around double the bandwidth of a standard-digital channel, meaning more satellite capacity is needed for the same amount of programming — at least until signal compression catches up.

SES announced in early February that its HD Plus service, launched in November 2009, had reached more than 1 million paying subscribers.

HD Plus offers existing SES satellite television customers whose subscription is restricted to free-to-air programming to receive 15 encrypted channels through the purchase of an HD Plus card that inserts into their set-top boxes.

SES offers the first 12 months of HD Plus free, at which point viewers pay an annual fee of 50 euros ($67.50) or are cut off. The number of paying subscribers doubled in 2012, and SES is anticipating growth of 25 percent in 2013.

As of the end of 2012, 2.87 million homes were using HD Plus, meaning nearly 2 million were still in their first 12 months of use and were still watching free of charge.