ABTA held its first debate on proposals for a new model for the pay-television industry in Brazil at a general meeting of members in São Paulo Friday, July 19. The meeting at Hotel Melia was attended by more than 50 people. A working group has been collecting information and ideas for the last two months. Its report will now be discussed by the entire pay-TV industry, and ABTA will receive suggestions and criticisms. An action plan will be the eventual outcome.
* Penetration and pricing – The report?s basic premise is that penetration is too low: only 35% among upper- and middle-income households (classes A and B in the Brazilian classification), and a mere 5% of lower-middle households (C). Ideally the numbers should be at least 56% and 11% respectively, making 6 million subscribers all told. This is considered the minimum to obtain sufficient scale when negotiating equipment and programming, not to mention developing policies for the industry. Another problem is pricing. Pay-TV subscriptions average 7% of household income, compared with less than 1% in the United States, for example. The report argues for 3% or about 30 reals per month (now some 10 US dollars). Potential risks include the advent of multimedia services and competition from telcos in pay-per-view and video-on-demand. Opportunities to be explored include digital television. A summary of the report?s main conclusions follows.
* Eliminate overbuilding – The working group proposes operators eliminate overbuilding by entering into agreements among themselves to ?swap? subscribers. Alternatively there could be some kind of central clearinghouse to facilitate network interconnection and interoperability nationwide, as well as equipment certification and purchasing. Network independence should be promoted on the basis of Anatel?s SCEMA mass media rules separating technologies and services. Cable and MMDS operators should work out operating agreements to comply with the legal obligation to cover 90% of all cities in the country.
* Programming: basic package for all – The working group focused on ways of improving relationships between operators and programmers, while strengthening pay TV?s ability to compete with broadcast TV. Programmers and content providers in general should work with operators to create a standard basic package priced at 30 reals per month maximum, for mandatory distribution by all operators. This would entail renegotiation of all dollar contracts and must-carry for some channels. Packages from there on up should be made as flexible as possible and tailored to regional and/or other interests. Lineups should be reformulated to remove channels considered unprofitable or insufficiently attractive to customers. Partnerships with broadcasters could enable the use of cable networks to advertise new products with their content.
* Mexican example – The report suggests the creation of a scheme to buy programming centrally along the lines of Mexico?s PCTV, replacing or modifying the role currently played by Net Brasil and Neo TV. PCTV negotiates on behalf of operators but has its own uplink and guarantees payment to programmers up to a certain limit in cases of default. A common skeleton for regional channels should be worked out with programmers and content providers. Operators themselves would fill in the slots left for local programming. A dedicated channel should be created for services of national scope such as health and education.
* Digital television: synergy – The idea here is to use pay TV for initial distribution of digital terrestrial broadcast signals, since most early adopters of DTV will be pay-TV subscribers. This will involve using the existing cable, MMDS and DTH infrastructure without needing to clear spectrum initially or install transmission towers and antennas. Work could begin even before Anatel chooses the DTV standard for Brazil. Incentives and subsidies should be created to encourage pay-TV operators to distribute digital channels, in cooperation with government, vendors and broadcasters. Open systems rather than proprietary platforms should be a priority. An entity along similar lines to Neotec for MMDS should be set up to take care of standardization issues.
* Single set-top – Efforts should be employed to work with vendors, broadcasters and Anatel on the development of a single digital set-top for cable, MMDS, DTH and broadcast TV. Central access control similar to Headend in the Sky (HITS) should be created as a basis for future interactive services. Work should begin to develop smart-card technology for pay-per-view and purchasing of prepaid events via digital set-tops in any location. Partnerships with retailers could finance distribution of digital set-tops coupled to DVDs, TVs etc. A variant would be to create a low-cost basic set-top to which consumers could plug in new services via smart card.