Monday, November 23, 2009

Coming Soon: AstroHD?

I'm pretty sure that most of us here have (or going to have) an HD TV.

The only problem is that most of us have only enough budget to spare to buy an original DVD and considering the fact that Blu-Ray Discs are the only True HD which we can obtain legally, there seems to be a limited number in choices when it comes to HD content.

Thankfully, Astro is finally announcing that it is going to release Astro HD by next month.
(but you need at least a new decoder)

Hopefully by then, we have better content and less rain disruptions.
(if we use the same satellite disc, we are going to have the same problems again)

Astro’s high definition future

PAY television operator Astro All Asia Networks, whose TV household penetration rate in Malaysia is almost reaching 50%, is aware that one size doesn’t fit all despite catering to the mass market.

Its customer spectrum ranges from the so-called “digital natives” to the rural population. At the same time, it has to cater to the needs of a complex, “Truly Asia” marketplace that is also becoming more educated, more well-travelled, more sophisticated and more demanding.

How does it plan to deal with these challenges? The answer: innovation in technology and content.

Datuk Rohana Rozhan ... ‘The whole idea is to evolve our technology and our platform so that we’re always ahead of consumer trends.’

Astro TV chief executive officer Datuk Rohana Rozhan says business as usual is no longer an option.

“We can’t just stick to one form of TV, which is linear TV, and serve one group of people the more mass we become. At the same time, we cannot forget our top-end customers who demand more of us. So we need both breadth and depth,” she tells StarBizWeek in an interview.

“In addition, we cannot ignore new media anymore. How content is consumed in the future is something that we have to be prepared for. Otherwise, in 10 years’ time or maybe less, when my son (who is currently 15 years old) becomes a customer of Astro, Astro will be irrelevant. So that’s how we look at the next phase where we want to go.”

Astro is evolving its content to include mobile and online content. Recently, it collaborated with Maxis to launch Malaysia’s first made-for-mobile entertainment series.

By next month Astro will launch high-definition (HD) TV, and in the first half of next year, it will re-introduce the personal video recorder (PVR), the satellite technology’s answer to video on demand.

“The whole idea,” Rohana says, “is to evolve our technology and our platform so that we’re always ahead of consumer trends.”

She is tight-lipped about the details of the HDTV launch, though she would say that customers would have to pay to enjoy HD content.

While declining to reveal the model being used by Astro, Rohana talks about those in overseas markets. “Some operators give you the same content in SD (standard definition) or in HD. Should you decide to take the content in HD, you pay extra.

“Some will also launch unique channels which have content you cannot have in SD. There may also be a window play, meaning earlier-release content. Even that you have to pay a la carte or per package for unique channels. We can pick and choose as to how we’ll launch HD in Malaysia.”

Astro, she adds, will come up with an economic commercial model for HD subscribers.

There are already 1.2 million Astro subscribers with flat-screen or high-definition TVs, she says. “The only HD content that’s available in Malaysia is Blu-ray and it’s far too expensive. Astro has decided that there’s a demand for HD products.”

On PVR, Rohana says Astro has 116 channels but some customers still complain there’s nothing to watch at particular times. The PVR, coupled with an improved electronic programme guide, will help to ensure there’s always something for subscribers to watch.

The PVR has a pause, stop, rewind and forward functionality, and subscribers can programme ahead what TV show to record. Rohana says the PVR has a hard disk storage of 160 hours.

On the differences between the latest PVR system and its predecessor, the discontinued Astro Max, she says: “This will be the first deployment of a new kind of PVR with many of the world’s largest broadcasters to follow Astro throughout 2010. In order to bring this next-generation PVR, Astro has fully licensed all the best-in-class technologies to deliver the world’s best PVR experience. This is a key difference to the Astro Max.”

Rohana says Astro is also working with all its channel providers and “fundamentally shifting its infrastructure to ensure that the PVR accurately records the programmes you want and provides detailed information around them.”

Another difference from the Astro Max system is the push functionality, which can be used as an up-selling tool for Astro.

“If I know you like CSI, I can download on a push basis the whole Season 200 of CSI and put it on your box. When you come home, I can say: ‘Hey, guess what? I have the whole Season 200 of CSI. Do you want to buy it?’ So, either you decide what you want to record, or we intuitively try to cater to what you want,” she says.

Astro is planning a major drive to change its relationship with customers from a transactional relationship to “a real relationship,” she says.

“We will understand what you like. If you like Oasis (an Astro channel with programming catering to Islamic values) and you plan to perform the haj, we’ll download a whole series on ibadah haji onto your box. And there’ll be a message that says we’ve downloaded this series of 12 episodes and asks you whether you want it.”

The HD set-top boxes, to be introduced by year-end, will only be for HD, but an external hard disc for PVR can be added. Next year it will introduce HD/PVR set-top boxes.

Regarding HD content, Rohana says it’s Astro’s aspiration to widen local content in HD. “To merit HD, it has to be a big-ticket item drawing high viewership. Malaysians will experience HD through football, for example, because 70% of our customers take up the sports package,” she points out. Sports is one of the strong pillars of HD; the others being Hollywood blockbusters and programmes like National Geographic.

Rohana says this year, total content cost is about 35% of its revenue. Every year, Astro spends about equally in international content, sports and local content.

While she wouldn’t say what percentage of local content cost would be allocated for HD, she says Astro increases its local content investment every year.

Rohana says all its programme producers will have to gear up for HD. “HD is end-to-end delivery, starting from the content. The camera that shoots that content has to be HD. The make-up they put has to be for HD because the clarity is much better.”

Astro is also using technology to attract more advertising ringgit. Rohana says Astro is already helping advertisers in packaging complete advertising and sponsorship propositions.

“Our people are well-trained to package the right proposition to advertisers. But if the advertisers want independence, we are working with technology in order to provide that,” she says.

“This new research rating system is far superior in every sense from its accuracy to tracking the viewing habits of the viewers. This means that we’ll be able to know which contents work better and which promotions, including TV commercials, work best.”

Asked when she expects this system to be ready, Rohana says: “As soon as possible.”


MingGuan said...

dont think the raining-period-non-transmission thing will go away, in fact i think the transmission quality will be worse by then, because data rate for HD will be higher, bandwidth will be higher too. so a slight cloud blocking or satellite out of position by a bit, then you loose the subtitles, or picture will be flakey, when it looses pixels

lionel0008 said...

@Ming Guan
I agree.

I don't think it will be HD if they use they same disc.

Unless they change the the frequency or increase the transmission power for the tower/satellite(not sure for this)


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