MALAYSIA: KL satellite TV set to offer 100 new channels

Malaysian viewers spoilt for choice as government grants more broadcast licences, among them video-on-demand and digital

The Straits Times
Tuesday, May 11, 2004

By Leslie Lau

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's satellite television operator Astro will offer more than 100 new channels by next year, making a packed Malaysian television market even more crowded.

There are already six free-to-air television channels, and there are still plans for more stations, according to the country's television regulator.

Government broadcaster RTM operates two channels as does private station TV3, while NTV7 and Channel Nine are the other two stations.

Broadcast licences have been issued to two other companies - Fine TV and MiTV - but these two companies have not announced when they will roll out services.

Fine TV is planning to offer video-on-demand over broadband cable while MiTV is planning a digital service.

'The government believes in self-regulation for the industry and to let market forces dictate the viability of having so many channels, as long as nothing immoral or obscene is shown,' a Malaysian Multimedia Commission official told The Straits Times.

Astro, which started operating subscription-based satellite television services six years ago, already offers more than 50 television and radio channels.

'Another significant highlight we expect to deliver next year is Astro's capacity to provide a previously unimaginable 100 plus new channels,' the company said in a newsletter this month.

Its ability to offer more channels is a result of next year's launch of its third satellite, Measat 3. But it has not released any details of what kind of programming it is planning.

It already broadcasts popular channels such as HBO and ESPN as well as a host of popular Chinese programmes.

With its new capacity, the operator will also soon be made available to Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand and India.

Astro now has a subscriber base in Malaysia of more than 1.39 million and has a market share of 20 per cent of all television viewers, the second highest of all stations in Malaysia.

It is creeping up on market leader and terrestrial station TV3, which depends solely on advertising for its revenue. It has a 34-per-cent market share.

Stations such as TV3 and NTV7 have become more competitive in their programming, and are offering more Chinese programmes to attract the lucrative Chinese buying power.

The battle for television viewers is heating up just as the industry expects advertising expenditure for the industry to increase this year.

Advertisers spent more than RM4 billion (S$1.81 billion) on advertisements last year but the lion's share went to newspapers and magazines, with television getting just over RM1 billion.

'Advertising for television is expected to rise further, especially with the industry getting more competitive,' said advertising media executive C.C. Tan.

Astro's rapid expansion does not come at a huge cost to terrestrial stations because the bulk of the satellite station's income comes from subscriptions.

The station collects more than RM1 billion a year from its subscribers and has paid advertisements on only a limited number of channels.