Is there a new threat in town for Astro with Ansa Broadcast tipped to launch?

Astro's monopoly as the sole satellite pay-TV operator in Malaysia is reportedly ending soon, with a new cable TV operator called Ansa Broadcast (Ansa) coming on board.

A report by Hong Leong Investment Bank (HLIB) this week, said that Ansa is now midst of entering the satellite pay-TV segment, but the actual implementation is expected to take some time before service is officially launched. Ansa was also previously known as U-television, a cable TV operator that is a subsidiary of tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s Berjaya group.

With several failures seen among non-satellite broadcasters such as ABNXcess, MiTV and Mega TV to-date, Ansa is not expected to be an overnight success. However, it can be disruptive by offering aggressive pricing and content variances, said a report on The Star, quoting HLIB.

Gaining ad revenue for traditional broadcast media companies globally in recent times has been an uphill battle. This is no different for Astro, which back in June reported that its total ad spend (Adex) fell 5% year-on-year for its first quarter of its financial year ending January 2018, citing its currently operating in a very challenging environment.

However, in a more positive light for the broadcaster, CIMB said Astro's aim to grow revenue from RM5.6 billion during the financial year ending 31 January 2017 to RM8.8 billion by FY22, can and will be driven by stronger advertising expenditure, especially in digital. This is backed by its new initiatives such as 24-hour home shopping TV channel Go Shop, online video service Tribe, licensing income and other ancillary income. CIMB also expects a stronger earnings recovering in FY18 for Astro, following an 8% advertising expenditure growth and higher average revenue per user (ARPU) of RM102 per month, propelled by the revision of its sport package price and higher acceptance of value-added services.

Nonetheless, with Ansa’s entrance as a new direct-to-home (DTH) satellite player, Astro will definitely face some pressure and competition which had been absent for the past two decades. Amit Sutha, managing director of Ensemble Worldwide and Universal McCann, said in this heated ecosystem, content is key in differentiating the ultimate leader.

Sutha said:

It is high time we stop thinking about broadcasting through the lens of satellite, terrestrial, cable, linear or non-linear.

"These are all broadcast formats and they compete against each other for eyeballs. Just because Astro no longer has the exclusivity advantage in satellite does not mean it has not faced competition before," he said, referring to the growing VOD market in Malaysia.

He added that, any broadcaster, whether it is the newly announced Ansa, or the already established Media Prima, and of course the likes of VOD players such as iflix, Netflix and Hypp, "will fail or succeed not because of poor consumer sentiment or low rates, but on the basis of the content they carry and the eyeballs they can attract."

Given that a lot of Malaysians are a huge sports fan, Sutha said Astro's biggest differentiation and advantage is its sports and live coverage.

“To be honest, Astro’s biggest differentiator is it’s sports and live coverage, specifically football and English Premier League. Given the passion with which we Malaysians follow that particular sport, as long as long as Astro manages to hold on those rights, they will be a force to contend with,” he said.

He added that this piece of news may be welcomed by many marketers and advertisers given that, they will have more choices. However, it will cause more complicated procedures especially in terms of media planning.

“In our industry, competition is often a double-edged sword. It is good because it keeps advertising inflation in check. However, too much competition also means fragmentation of viewer attention and that makes communications and media planning a lot more complex,” Sutha said.

On this, Prashant Kumar, partner at Entropia also added, "Choice is always good for marketing investors. But the choices need to be real, and have a critical mass."

He added, it is "very difficult" for a new entrant with a traditional model to make a big dent in Astro's base as the broadcaster dominates both popular content and a fine-tuned pricing strategy. Also, while getting audience share is challenging in its own regard, monetising it with advertising is a whole different ballgame.  He also said:

It took Astro several years to get that right, even when they had huge share of audience.

“It's not impossible to compete effectively with Astro, but few licensees so far have been able to get their content and acquisition strategy right,” he said.

Keeping up with changing viewership habits in Malaysia

Of course, with the changing viewership habits in Malaysia, Astro is also competing with other VOD players. Its Astro’s On-The-Go will be under intense competition from the likes of dimsum, iflix, Netflix, tonton and Viu which are aggressively fighting for attention.

Earlier this year, Astro said it will continue to invest for future revenue growth by embracing three key imperatives under its digital transformatio