Govt open to pay-TV market liberalisation, says Gobind

Minister to study proposals for pay-TV licences, something that he says is needed for the country to move ahead

By P PREM KUMAR & ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / Pic By AFIF ABD HALIM

Malaysia is open to liberalising the pay-TV market, allowing competition to flourish and ending a monopoly in the lucrative sector worth billions of ringgit, previously stifled by licensing rules and demand for large investments.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo (picture) said the ministry welcomes competition in the cable-TV segment, which is currently dominated by Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd.

“The proposals (for pay-TV licences) that have come forward, I will certainly look at them. I think that is something that is healthy and needed for us to move ahead,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Malaysian Reserve.

Gobind said the entry of more players will create a more level playing field, as well as a healthier market, and consumers can pick the operator of their choice.

He also said service providers would strive to improve their services due to the competition.

“We want to have an industry in which there are multiple players who can provide different services, who can always improve and up the ante, and to ensure the industry improves to be on par with the rest of the world,” the minister said in the interview.

He said the country has faced the dilemma of monopoly and a single service provider for a long time in many sectors.

“Nowadays, all you need to do is just sit on your sofa, flip the channels on TV and you can see the difference in the quality of the programmes and the presentation.

“When we have just one service provider, we find that the rest of the world is moving ahead so fast.

“If we look at the same products in some other countries, you will realise that Malaysia is far behind. We really need to push ahead.”

Astro has had the lion’s share of the resident ial pay-TV market since it was founded in 1996.

Over the last few years, however, consumers are turning to Internet TV set-up boxes and paid channels like iflix or Netflix. Telekom Malaysia Bhd is also trying to muscle into the lucrative market.

Last year, it was reported that a new cable TV operator called Ansa Broadcast could enter the local market. Ansa Broadcast was previously known as U-television, a cable TV operator that is a subsidiary of tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s Berjaya Group. Malaysia has also witnessed the failure of many non-satellite broadcasters such as Asian Broadcasting Network (M) Sdn Bhd, MiTV Corp Sdn Bhd and Mega TV.

With the emergence of Internet as a fast data delivery medium, this has opened up new opportunities for companies as they no longer have to depend on high-speed and expensive satellites to broadcast their content.

Gobind said he will be meeting Astro’s top management next week over the rising concerns among customers on its services and customer handling.

“I have asked them to explain why so many of their customers seem to have similar problems and concerns, and why nothing has been done about it?

“Why is there no urgency on their part to try and improve things so that they can deal with these problems and solve them,” Gobind said, adding that the pricing will also be part of the discussion.

“Of course we have to look at things like pricing. That has always been a dicey subject, but again, we have to look at what the other service providers around the region offer and ask them to make comparisons,” he said.

As at its first financial quarter (1Q) ended April 30, 2018, Astro is presently available in 5.5 million households, or 75% of the country’s households.

The pay-TV provider offers 188 TV channels, including 72 Astro and 60 high-definition channels through direct-tohome satellite TV, IPTV and over-the-top platforms. It also provides NJOI, a non-subscription freemium service, which offers 28 channels and 20 radio stations.

News reports recently said Astro’s majority shareholder, billionaire Tan Sri T Ananda Krishnan, was considering taking the pay-TV operator private.

Ananda, who is the country’s third-richest man, is Astro’s single largest shareholder with a 40.91% stake. He also controls Maxis Bhd and Bumi Armada Bhd.

For the 1Q ended April 30, Astro’s net profit fell 10.8% to RM174.73 million, owing to higher net finance costs, while revenue was slightly lower at RM1.31 billion against RM1.33 billion a year ago.