The FINANCIAL — Satellites and the launch industry are undergoing dramatic changes due to the fast-changing world. Next generation satellites are promised to be lighter in weight, have more efficient beams and be faster to market. Unlike other industries, the broadcasting business continues even during tough economic times.
The International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) 2015 took place recently in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. IBC is an annual event for professionals engaged in the creation, management and delivery of electronic media worldwide. A global satellite company, SES was one of the participants of the IBC 2015 forum. The FINANCIAL met Hakan Sjodin, Vice President, Sales Nordic, Baltic and Eastern Europe SES, Commercial, who shared with us the new and developing satellite technologies and services.
“In the sphere of broadcasting, IBC 2015 has finally proved Ultra HD, or 4K, as a well-established format for both the content production side as well as on the hardware side. 8K stunning production was also presented, but the comparison between 4K and 8K is far less visible than that between HD and Ultra HD a few years ago,” said Sjodin.
In Sjodin’s words, SES had two Ultra HD demos at IBC showing new features: one was the live broadcast of Ultra HD in HDR via satellite (High Dynamic Range, which makes television much more realistic); and another was an off-line Dolby Vision demo showing HDR and WCG content (Wider Colour Gamut featuring wider colour space capable of representing more colours).
Q. SES hosted a broad range of activities at IBC 2015. Which current and challenging topics and technological developments in the satellite market were discussed?
A. As usual, SES hosted a number of seminars where we presented new or developing satellite technologies and services, such as the above-mentioned Ultra HD, SAT>IP, which brings satellite broadcast TV to a range of IP devices such as tablets, PCs and smartphones in homes; Fluid Hub – an online service platform for efficient and secure management and delivery of video content; Liquid VoD (real Video on Demand experience via satellite); Lucid OVP – an end-to-end online video solution which offers a complete range from content management to front-end application for mobile devices (iOS, Android) and TV screen. SES experts also talked about SES fleet development and next generation HTS satellites, satellite-based e-platforms such as e-education, e-health and other humanitarian projects that add value to society, and much more.
Q. SES is one of the flagmen of the industry. What are some of the innovative advancements that you plan to introduce to your customers?
A. As mentioned above, some of the new services we presented during IBC were Liquid VoD and Lucid OVP.
Lucid OVP is a complete and readily available end-to-end solution to realize linear TV streaming, catch-up TV and Video on Demand (VOD), each as a stand-alone service or all combined as a powerful online video product. The service is delivered over the internet (over the top, OTT), not via satellite.
Liquid VOD is a real video on demand experience over satellite. The solution provides a consistent, ubiquitous and guaranteed quality of service which can only be served via satellite. The videos offered can be accessed in real time by an unlimited number of viewers without incremental distribution cost.
Q. What is the impact of your innovative products and how will it transform the industry and society?
A. SES has a strong reputation for high-tech innovations. If we take the broadcast sector, here we were the first company to have started broadcasting in new formats such as HD and Ultra HD; we are the ones who, together with the industry, are stimulating distribution of satellite television via IP-based devices (SAT-IP), trying to bring the end-consumer the best of two worlds. We are changing the video distribution landscape and bringing high quality digital TV to homes. Sometimes satellite is the only possible way of getting a signal. In June, for example, we digitized the mountain village of Ushguli (in Svaneti) where up till then people had been cut off from TV services or had only had a very poor signal. Now, thanks to satellite technology, people can enjoy the Magtisat package via one of our satellites. If we talk about data, we are working together with the shipping, oil and air industries to provide end-to-end communication solutions for these sectors.
Q. Several pay-TV operators announced at IBC that they are stepping into the 4K ring. Is 4K part of the schedule of SES and what are its advantages?
A. 4K is a movie format and Ultra-HD is the TV format. SES now carries the first commercial 24/7 UHD channels – Fashion One and Pearl TV, and we expect more to follow. UHD is the next technological step in the development of television. It brings a resolution four times greater than HD and several other significant improvements.
Q. In the technological era, today’s innovation is tomorrow’s old trend. How do companies involved in the technological industry manage to maintain profitability despite an economic recession and shrinking budgets?
A. Like for everyone else, this is a challenge, but the broadcasting business continues even during tough economic times. Satellite broadcast is a proven technology that has built a solid track record and is often called “future-proof” technology. Nevertheless, satellites and the launch industry are both undergoing dramatic changes according to the fast-changing world. Next generation satellites will be lighter in weight, have more efficient beams and will be faster to market. Recently we published the white paper Creating Space – The Satellite Revolution, where we showed how the satellite industry is going to change in the near future.
Q. According to MoffettNathanson analysis, U.S. satellite TV subscriber numbers have declined in 2015. How would you evaluate the current year for your company in terms of number of subscribers and profitability?
A. We have been conducting a comprehensive market research called SES Satellite monitor since 1994 where we measure SES reach worldwide and in different regions. In 1994, when we started our measurements, there were 23 million satellite homes in Europe and SES reached 20 million. In 2014 – there were 90 million European satellite homes with SES reaching 64 million. We will have the figures for 2015 in March 2016 and only then will be able to see what the current trend is.
Q. Which countries are the most promising for SES and why?
A. SES is a global company and each market is different and important for us. Objectives on mature markets will be different from the ones in developing markets. We have a strong premium presence in Europe and North America and a growing presence in emerging markets like Africa or Latin America. But we have local offices in the majority of our markets ensuring one of our principles “think global – act local”. We support our customers and try to bring best practice and expertise to all our markets.
Q. Is traditional broadcast threatened and how can one follow modern demands?
A. There will always be a demand for linear and live TV for news, sports and other entertainment, and consumption of linear TV is still very high. Traditional broadcast is not threatened; however, the world of “on-demand” will change the viewing habits and therefore ways of delivering content to the end-consumer. As a result, we will see a combination of different platforms where satellite will continue to play an important role.
Q. Georgia only managed to switch to digital terrestrial broadcasting in 2015. What is hampering the implementation of modern technologies in different countries?
A. Analogue switch-off started in Europe in 2006 and according to the recommendation of the European Commission, should be completed in all countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Russia, the CIS and Mongolia by June 2015. So Georgia made it in time. In some countries the process is still ongoing and the reasons for that could vary from the geographical to economic, political and legislative. Although Georgia switched to digital terrestrial networks only in 2015, SES has been broadcasting digital TV via satellite since 2011.