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In-room entertainment systems in hotels are due for a sector-wide upgrade, said Infinio CEO Jeffrey Soong. Photo by Sim Kih

SPORTS FANS who pay to watch international games, women who pay for soap operas, retirees who pay for documentaries, and other subscribers of premium TV content are on the rise in Asia. 

With the advent of digital TV platforms such as cable connection and satellite broadcast, TV viewers are now spoilt for choice in the programs they can watch.

What’s more, subscription TV (or Pay TV) in Asia Pacific now reaches more homes than the rest of the world combined, according to the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia.

”There’s a huge Pay TV market in China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan,” said Jeffrey Soong, the Taiwan-born CEO of Infinio, who met NextInsight last week.

Asia-Pacific penetration for Pay TV is now 45% of all households with television sets.

That means, more than 326 million households in the region now subscribe to multi-channels, a 12% increase year-on-year as at August 2009.

China and India spearheaded much of the growth, accounting for 90% of all Asian pay-TV subscribers in 2009.
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Defensive: Asia Pacific Pay TV subscription grew steadily through the recent financial crisis.

In Singapore, StarHub is the leading Pay TV platform, carrying more than 140 channels through cable TV format, including the entire suite of MediaCorp's TV channels.

SingTel's Mio TV carries MediaCorp's High Definition TV through Internet broadband (IPTV).

 

Many of the world's major telecos are exploring IPTV as a new revenue opportunity from their existing markets and as a defensive measure against encroachment from more conventional cable TV services.

For example, a recent IPTV versus cable TV fight that hogged media limelight was when Singtel outbid Starhub for the 2010-2012 Barclays Premier League matches broadcasting rights, and slashed its BPL Pay-TV package by almost 60%.

In the past, IPTV technology has been restricted by low broadband penetration and by the relatively high cost of installing wiring capable of transporting IPTV content reliably in the customer's home.

In the coming years, however, residential IPTV is expected to grow at a brisk pace. Broadband became available to more than 200 million households worldwide in 2005 but Gartner projected that this will double to 400 million by the year 2010.

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Infinio launched RoomWise, its in-room TV entertainment service for hotels early this year.

One of Asia’s first IPTV service providers is Broadband Network Systems Ltd (BNS), which was bought over by SGX-listed Infinio (formerly Auston) in Feb 2009.

BNS recently completed deploying the first phase of its community-based IPTV service in Taiwan, after securing in Sept a 5-year exclusive master supply contract worth US$34 million from Max Media.

Taiwan has the most successful pay TV market in Asia (78% penetration), and Max Media is its largest in-building broadband service provider to communities such as in estates, apartment complexes, as well as residential and commercial buildings.

This big-name customer of Infinio’s serves over 3,100 communities, inhabited by over 10% of Taiwan’s high-income households, who together own 41% of Taiwanese wealth.

Over 1,500 homes have been connected in the first phase.

A first in Taiwan, the community-based IPTV features high definition (HD) IPTV and network-based personal video recording (PVR) service in HD.

The contract requires BNS to supply complete IPTV turnkey solutions including network, equipment, software, content, and system integration, maintenance and support services to Max Media who will operate the service.

45 TV channels, including exclusive Chinese channels not seen on cable TV, true HD TV channels and video on demand (VOD) content, TV shopping and TV advertising services will also be delivered to homes, offices and hotel rooms.

Infinio is still in early stages of its business restructuring.  It divested its education business and acquired BNS in Feb.

When it will get out of the teething stage of its new business remains to be seen.  The group lost S$3 million during the half year ended Sep 2009.

The good news: Phase one of its community-based IPTV service will contribute positively to its performance for the financial year ending March 2010.

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