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Economy

Cable company dropping Solar channels effective Jan.1

September 26, 2007 11:00pm
By JEFFREY O. VALISNO, BusinessWorld Senior reporter

DOMINANT CABLE television service provider SkyCable is set to implement major changes in its programming lineup starting January next year, introducing six new channels that are each targeted to cater to specific audiences.

The new channels will likely replace the six cable channels owned and operated by local media firm Solar Entertainment Corp., whose contract to broadcast on SkyCable will expire on Dec. 31.

In a recent media preview, SkyCable Vice-President for programming Juno Chuidian announced that the six new channels are: AXN Beyond, Balls, Fox Crime, KidsCo, Maxxx, and Velvet.

The new channels will go on air beginning Jan. 1.

Ms. Chuidian explained that the introduction of the new channels is part of SkyCable’s efforts to get rid of "redundant" channels.

"We wanted to streamline and strengthen our programming mix so that we could give optimum value from our channels," she told reporters.

"With the new programming, redundant programs have been reduced while new international shows will be brought for the first time to the Filipino viewers."

The entry of the new channels will dislodge Solar Entertainment’s six channels from SkyCable’s programming lineup. By Jan. 1 next year, Ms. Chuidian said SkyCable would no longer carry Basketball TV, Solar Sports, ETC, 2nd Avenue, Jack TV, and Crime/Suspense.

"After all, some of the more prominent programs in these channels may still be found on free TV or SkyCable’s other channels, such as StarWorld and AXN," she said.

Talk is rife that SkyCable’s decision to oust the Solar group is part of a scheme to help SkyCable’s sister company, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp., corner more advertisement revenues for its affiliates, and hit its P1-billion net income target for the entire 2007.

ABS-CBN’s own cable channels (through its subsidiary, Creative Programs, Inc.), including the Lifestyle Network and Cinema One, as well as its free TV affiliate Studio 23, are allegedly losing advertising to Solar Entertainment’s channels, which are said to be "favored" by advertisers for their "cheaper" airtime rates.

Weak advertising revenues earlier pulled down ABS-CBN’s net income.

After reporting a 25% drop in net income in 2004, the Lopez-led media firm’s net income further slumped by 62% to P288 million in 2005. Since then, the company has recovered. As of the first half of this year, ABS-CBN’s net income rose by 77% to P739 million, nearly matching its earnings for the entire 2006.

ABS-CBN currently owns 10.2% of SkyVision Corp., the holding company that owns 66.5% of Central CATV, better known by its trade name SkyCable.

Ms. Chuidian said SkyCable’s decision to severe ties with Solar Entertainment "was very amicable" and "was nothing personal."

"There are so many new channels out there, worldwide. Since SkyCable’s capacity is limited, we cannot carry so many channels. So we decided to take in new ones, and replace existing channels that duplicate what we already have in the lineup," she said.

The SkyCable official is also confident that current subscribers will not leave because of the pullout of Solar’s channels. "We have about 100 channels, I think there will not be a lot of subscribers who will leave just because of six channels," she said, adding that 70% of all the current cable television subscriptions are with SkyCable.

BusinessWorld sought Solar Entertainment’s comment, but they declined to say anything at this point. "Our official statement at this point is ’No Comment,’" said a Solar official who declined to be named. "Negotiations are ongoing. We cannot reveal anything yet."

The official however assured that "Solar Entertainment will continue, with or without Skycable."