SKY CABLE GOES 'PICTURE PERFECT'
by Kristine Servando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak | 04/28/2009 8:17 PM
In the posh boardroom of the company's top cable provider sat a shiny new Sony Bravia high-definition television (HDTV), curiously enclosed within iron grills, and showing a herd of lions. A top SkyCable executive joked, "The grills are to prevent the lions from leaping out at us."
This is precisely the kind of "clear as real" experience that SkyCable aims to provide with the launch of two new high-definition programs on cable TV, reportedly a first in the entire country.
With the introduction of the SkyCable HD box and two new educational programs in HD, the company guarantees it will entice viewers who want a "life-changing" TV experience via enhanced picture and sound quality.
For now, the HD channels being offered are Discovery Channel (ch. 164) and the History Channel (ch. 165), both of which offer exclusive documentaries and features.
However, SkyCable Marketing Vice President Rodrigo Montinola revealed that negotiations are in the works for other HD offerings like sports, a follow-up to their prior HD coverage of the Ryder Cup in 2008.
"We're looking at one way to really appreciate HD via sports events so we're looking at a specific set (of sports events), which may follow a [pay-per-view] format. It will be something that our subscribers can appreciate," he said.
Malou Esparrago, SkyCable's head of Postpaid Marketing, said the HD package is meant for households with LCD, plasma, or projector TV sets, who have had to contend with slightly pixellated standard-definition programming because of a lack of HD content in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
According to SkyCable's Research and Development Vice President Engr. Mike Martir, there are only so many HD programs available in Southeast Asia because they occupy too much bandwidth and are too expensive to be beamed via satellite.
He said each HD channel cost the company P3 Million, amounting to about P6 Million or more, including equipment costs for an additional integrated receiver-decoder (IRD) and transmission equipment.
Subscribers also need to be "digital-ready" SkyCable subscribers, or must own TVs with digital connections, to avail of the service so they can make the easy transition to HD. Programs will be beamed via satellite in both 1080i or 1080p formats, along with mpeg2 audio, basically giving a subscriber a clearer picture and superior sound.
The SkyCable HD box, which can only work with LCD or plasma screen TVs, as well as projector TVs, can carry both standard definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) programs. Subscribers will pay a one-time installation fee of P5,000 for the HD box (which can also play music from a USB flash drive) and P499 a month for the two HD programs. Additional TVs in the household each require a separate HD box, but HD programs for succeeding TVs will only cost P152 a month.
Households which have already purchased the SkyCable DigiBox, which offers digital content, will pay less if they swap their existing Digibox with an HD box.
The HD package, however, is far from becoming a mass-market product, a fact which SkyCable executives are fully aware.
Esparrago admits that the product, which is exclusive to SkyCable subscribers, is only geared towards a small market of affluent males who are likely to have disposable income.
"We realize it's not going to be a mass market kind of thing, it's really for the upscale market who want it and who can pay for it. What we're doing for HD is that those who want to get that kind of technology, at least the content is already available," she said.
Currently, 90% of SkyCable's estimated 250,000 Metro Manila subscribers are already digital-ready, and about 100,000 already have DigiBoxes, but only a small percentage of this constitute the rich boy market who are willing to make the HD transition.
However, SkyCable executives and their partner companies Sony electronics company and appliance retailer Abenson, are reportedly not worried about the global economic crisis, when consumers tend to scrimp on spending for big-ticket items like plasma screen TVs.
Esparrago said they are confident in Abenson's and Sony's sales figures, which reportedly show that people are still buying expensive gadgets.
"For now, we are still having a lot of buyers of the LCD TVs, and I think for the Philippines, it's not affected by what they call the recession because most of our items, normally LCD TVs, are still being bought," said Jong dela Cruz, an Abenson Marketing officer.
The HD's luxury status, however, does not mean that the companies are not coming up with promos to capture the less affluent market.
Montinola said they will be launching SkyCable Select, which allows the subscriber to customize the amount and type of programs he or she watches on TV; "Video on Demand", which allows viewers to watch any program at any time; as well as partnerships with Abenson and Sony to make the HD experience more affordable through discounts.
Dream home theater
However, is the HDTv and plasma screen experience really the life-changing event that it's hyped up to be? Is it really worth the hole in your wallet? Definitely, said ABS-CBN Corporate Communications Manager Kane Choa, who recently purchased one such plasma screen TV.
"I pay a lot more. But it's nice, it's like having a mini-theater in your living room. Usually you can only experience HD quality when you watch DVDs, and you can really see the difference--the colors are sharper, it's much clearer than the regular SD," he said.
"I feel like I don't want to go back to SD because you'll really acquire the taste for HD, you'll learn to get used to it," he added.
Aside from this leap into HD, SkyCable also promises to make more innovations in the future, all geared towards giving the Philippine public amazing viewing experiences.
"We're also developing a box now that is supposed to provide picture on picture (where viewers can watch several shows in one TV screen). We are also developing a box with a personal video recorder, much like a TiVo. The new boxes are still in the testing stage, maybe within the year or next year, we can have these," Martir said.
Esparrago said, however, that a quick jump into a "super-box" that encompasses many features will be too costly, should it be introduced to the market right now.
"The more features, the more expensive it will be, something that the market cannot bear at this point. But we want SkyCable to be the first to bring it into the Philippine market so that the Philippines can be as advanced as other countries," she said.
Nevertheless, with SkyCable's initial steps into HD technology, and with more TV innovations lined up in the immediate future, who knows maybe we can expect lions and more to leap out of our TV screens someday.
abs-cbnNEWS.com is the online news department of ABS-CBN Interactive Inc., a subsidiary of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. ABS-CBN and SkyCable, which 66.5% owned by Lopez-controlled holding firm SkyVision Corp., are both part of the Lopez Group of Companies.
as of 04/28/2009 8:32 PM