Vietnamese pay-TV on the rise
Written by Rose Major
Sunday, 09 May 2010 10:01

The number of DTH channels in Vietnam has grown swiftly from just 20 to over 100, but there are still just 200,000 DTH subscribers, CASBAA Vietnam’s Pay-TV Industry Seminar in Hanoi heard last week.

Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia’s (CASBAA’s) seminar brought together more than 200 Vietnamese government officials, international industry decision makers and media to have a 360-degree analysis of the Vietnam pay-TV sector, including business models; the channel licensing process; intellectual property rights; copyright challenges; the prospects for Cable, DTH, IPTV and content production.

Vietnam's pay-TV sector is one of the fastest developing markets in the Asia Pacific. While it is a comparatively small market of just 4.2 million connections, including a 2 million strong DTT FTA platform; 2.1 million cable subscribers and just 200,000 DTH subscribers, the opportunities are immense as the industry focuses on the dual subscription and advertising revenue streams.

Canal+ launched a DTH pay-TV platform, K+, in Vietnam at the start of 2010. Operated by the French pay-TV group's subsidiary VSTV, itself a commercial joint-venture created with Vietnamese public television service VTV, K+ offers more than 50 channels, both Vietnamese and international and includes a premium sports, cinema, and documentary channel.

Another company planning a DTH platform is government-backed broadcaster Vietnam Multimedia Corporation (VTC) which has leased capacity from AsiaSat for the service. VTC already operates the country’s subscription DTT service, though piracy of that signal is reported to be rampant.

Cable operators include VCTV (a division of VTV), Ho Chi Minh City Television (HTVC), Hanoi TV (HCTV), and Saigon Tourist Cable Service (SCTV), a joint venture between VTV and Saigon Tourist company.

Certainly, with less than 10% cable-TV penetration, pay-TV operators must differentiate themselves from the 40 free-to-air terrestrial channels in order to gain more market share. This means offering more choices and premium content for the consumers, said Raymund Miranda, MD (APAC), Universal Networks International. "But we also have the chance to build a really firm base, not least in terms of audience measurement. If we can get that right today, we have so much to build upon."

As in so many developing economies, pay-TV market development is being held back by signal piracy in Vietnam. According to CASBAA, the cost of pay-TV piracy in Vietnam in 2009 stood at US$15 million, up by 17%. For 2010 there is expected to be a substantial increase, at least in line with market growth.

According to several participants in the one-day meeting, with 70% of the population living outside urban areas, satellite services and DTH have a competitive advantage over other platforms in Vietnam. Le Thanh Nam, Vice Director of national satellite operator Vinasat, said the number of DTH channels in Vietnam has been growing rapidly from 20 to over 100, of which over 70% are transmitted by various platform operators via Vinasat.

However, other presenters such as Kevin Dickie, SVP, Discovery Networks AP; Gushi Sethi, Director of Affiliate Sales, Eurosport and Gregg Daffner, a Senior Advisor to EchoStar International, admitted that operating the DTH platforms would be expensive when driving Vietnam's mass market. But just as importantly, as demonstrated by the hugely successful India market, digital DTH will be a genuine competitor for cable services, driving the digitization of cable systems.

Currently there are some 170 TV channels of all kinds in Vietnam , yet in the view of many industry players this is not sufficient to meet market demand, especially with audiences demanding a high level of content in their local language.