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SARFT Rural DBS Program Targets 10 Mln Users in 2011

SARFT, 11/02/11

At a work meeting on direct-broadcast satellite (DBS) service region planning convened by China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) in Beijing on October 31, Wang Xiaojie, director of SARFT's Department of Science and Technology, said that China's national "Huhutong" rural DBS initiative aims to deploy 10 mln "Huhutong" DBS satellite TV receivers by year's end, growing to 50 mln in 2012 and 200 mln by 2015. Eligible areas are defined as those regions for which current cable network operator plans will not offer coverage, many of them home to rural or nomadic residents with comparatively low incomes for whom the RMB 500 or higher price of current television set-top boxes (STBs) is unacceptably high. For the early stages of Huhutong, SARFT will allow STB manufacturers to use single-module designs, rather than dual-module designs, and to sell STBs separately from antennae, among other cost-lowering measures.

SARFT established a center for management of DBS TV broadcasting on October 11 with the aim of promoting efforts to construct public service systems for rural broadcast television. According to Yang Yiman, director of the new center, efforts to define DBS service regions continues apace. As of the morning of October 30, the center had defined service regions for 24 provinces, covering approximately 14 mln households in 4,997 townships and 57,132 administrative-level villages. Following the selection of these initial regions, STB manufacturers will be required to set up retail network points to sell Huhutong STBs. The sale and installation of STBs through the Huhutong project will be the responsibility primarily of STB makers, while local cable network operators will play a purely supervisory role.

To counter the estimated 40 mln "black boxes" - unlicensed satellite TV receivers - feeds from the Chinasat-9 satellite have been encrypted, with frequent encryption updates, since late 2009, meaning unlicensed satellite receivers can receive only 12 channels of programming aimed at rural and nomadic citizens. SARFT is currently considering making additional satellite channels from outside provinces available to initial adopters of Huhutong receivers. Current plans call for 24 channels of free Huhutong satellite programming, including 15 CCTV channels (including CCTV 3, 5, 6, and 8), one channel from China Education Television, one channel of local satellite programming, and seven channels of programming aimed at ethnic minorities.

One STB manufacturer told Sohu IT that it would be extremely difficult to meet the goal of 10 mln STBs sold by the end of the year, given the short period of time and the demographics of the regions targeted, many of which are old revolutionary strongholds, border regions, minority regions, or impoverished.

Keywords: government initiative Wang Xiaojie rural television users SARFT DBS satellite TV pricing Science and Technology Department satellite dish set-top box Chinasat-9

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