NDS: 'Spygate' should wrap in May

Conditional access specialists NDS has had a superb 3Q, with revenues up 20%, operating income up 21% and a record 87m active smart cards in use.

However, NDS president and CEO Dr Abe Peled (pictured, left), while not discussing the ongoing “Spygate” litigation between NDS and Echostar, said he hoped the trial would finish later this month.
Amongst the results highlights, NDS revealed it now has 12.1m DVR players deployed using its technology (6.4m a year ago), 83.1m boxes (57.3m) using its one or other of its middleware products and 86.9m smart cards in use (72.9m). Revenues and net profit have increased commensurately, as has the firm’s headcount which over the past year has expanded from 3460 staff to 3886 today.

Dr Peled listed the major client gains achieved during the three months:

• Premiere DTH (Germany)
• Digital Ent. Network (DEN, India)
• TeleColumbus, Germany
• Canal+ deploying latest MediaHighway
• Hathway (India) using NDS DVR
• Viasat (Scandinavia) extending contract

NDS’ operating income was US$43.3m, or 20% of revenue, for Q3 ended March 31, 2008, compared to $35.8m, or 20% of revenue (same period last year). Operating income was $151.1m, or 24% of revenue, for the nine months ended March 31, 2008, compared to $117.8 million, or 23% of revenue (same period last year).

NDS’ statement said there was no intention of using the now-large cash reserves ($696.2m) to pay dividends, saying: “Our accumulated cash is being held with the intention of using it for the future development of the business”.

Dr Peled said, with typical understatement, that the quarter had been “good” and that he was “comfortable” with the way business was moving. He said the German market was progressing well, as was India. Staying in Germany, Peled said NDS was having on-going discussions with Kabel Deutschland and Unity Media, but RFPs were not on the table.

He explained that Hathway, already a client in India would now be rolling out NDS XTV (DVR) product. Digital Entertainment Network was another growing cable business in India and taking a full portfolio of NDS products. Bharti, the cellular operator, had chosen NDS for its pan-Indian DTH service. “We’re bullish on India, although the regulatory environment is a bit unpredictable. Taking a five-year view it is perfectly possible that the market could win 40m subs, and we could take around 50% of that total.” Peled admitted that the Indian revenues might be a little more modest, but the margins remained attractive.

Conditional Access sales still had plenty of upside, given that 2.9m cards have been delivered but not yet activated, to players like Dogan Group (Turkey), Astro (Malaysia) and others. These will be recognised over the upcoming months.

Legal expenses are up reflecting the current Echostar litigation, now dubbed “Skygate” by one analyst and likely to be in use by the community. However, Peled did admit that the Echostar litigation was “watered down” compared to the original, and that NDS was expecting the trial to wrap this month.