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Luxembourg-base SES is already carrying more than 6230 satellite channels, some 18 per cent of the world’s total channels (35,000), and this year – if its forecasts are reasonably accurate – the operator will overtake Intelsat as the world’s largest satellite business measured by revenues.
The reason is that Intelsat is very dependent on so-called ‘governmental’ business, which is industry shorthand for military contracts, and with the US budget cut-backs plus the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Intelsat last year saw a decline in those revenues. This year it expects a further 15-20 per cent reduction in military business. SES, on the other hand, is not so dependent on government business and instead saw a 1.9 per cent rise in revenues. This year SES is anticipating a 6.5 per cent rise in overall income.
As at December 31st 2013, however, Intelsat was just ahead of SES in terms of dollar revenues (Intelsat at $2.604 billion, with SES at $2.563 billion.
Of course, rivalry takes many forms and the two players can still argue size and position in a number of ways. For example, Intelsat’s contracted backlog (at $10.1 billion) is good, but SES is currently better (at €7.5 billion, or $10.3 billion), while the size of the fleet is another measure, as is the number of transponders on the fleet.
But here’s another metric that will become increasingly important: the number of Ultra-HD channels carried. SES serves Germany, France and Spain from its 19.2 degrees East neighbourhood. SES has about 15 empty transponders waiting for Ultra-HD to gain acceptance. CEO Romain Bausch, speaking on February 21st, said that SES anticipates UHD taking off in a meaningful fashion for viewers in 2016 with the Rio Olympic Games and that year’s Euro 2016 UEFA football championships (which take place in France).
This means that fans will need new 4K TV displays, and broadcasters will have to supply or – more likely – adapt existing set-top boxes to receive the fat signals, but they’ll not need new dishes. The same satellites, from the same positions, will supply the new signals. The same applies to SES’ other hot spot locations, not least 28.2 which serves the UK and Ireland. The SES craft will also carry Ultra-HD signals to the British Isles the moment BSkyB goes live with a service.