An interesting fact to note about television is, the medium still plays the same role it has played for decades which is to be a source of entertainment and information. However, today television stations have metamorphosed to adapt to the ever-changing ways viewers consume information and entertainment screened by broadcast stations.
In Malaysia, the TV industry has grown tremendously – from being just the basic national free-to-air channels. Consumers in Malaysia are spoilt for choice with the entrance of pay-TV sector and Internet Protocol television (IPTV).
Almost two decades ago, pay-TV to a majority of Malaysians was a thing of luxury while IPTV was still at its early testing stage.
Back in 1995 to 1996, the introduction of Mega TV and Astro had exposed Malaysians to the concept of subscription-based TV service.
However, initially, the concept of paying for extra channels to watch contents unavailable on national TV channels weren’t widely accepted by Malaysian consumers.
BizHive Weekly observed, to most, pay-TV back then was considered an option for only those in the high-income category.
Nevertheless, that notion has changed over recent years. With the rampant growth of technology, growing network reach across the country, and subsequently the hunger for new information, consumers have gained the need for wider choices of TV channels and content.
As such, the subscription pay-TV, with its wide array of contents has grown tremendously to feed the increasing demand for more up-to-date and wider range of entertainment and information.
In addition, Maybank Investment Bank Bhd’s research arm (Maybank IB Research) had noted in its research report, Malaysian incomes are likely to grow and subsequently pay-TV penetration rate will rise.
Now, aside from the basic FTA, pay-TV is in almost every urban Malaysian home as highlighted by leading integrated consumer media entertainment and pay-TV service provider, Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd (Astro).
It says, today, its pay-TV services penetration rate has reached approximately 62 per cent of the households in Malaysia which translates to approximately 4.2 million households.
Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in its industry report “Broadcasting: Television – Demand of the digital media” states that: “Digital delivery worldwide in the form of cable, satellite and terrestrial modalities have propelled media companies, including new entrants to bloom and further expand their services into pay-TV offerings such as video on demand (VoD), pay-per-view (PPV) interactive TV (iTV) and games.”
Malaysia’s pay-TV industry is relatively small compared to its Western counterparts as the industry currently has two known major players which are Astro and the up and coming IPTV HyppTV whose influence is growing in the overall broadcasting scene in Malaysia.
Nevertheless, leveraging on the rapid growth of technology and wider network reach, the industry has been going major transitions over the past decades to meet the constantly shifting consumers’ demands.
Besides that, over the years, Malaysia’s pay-TV industry services has also gone beyond broadcasting. Off-air, pay-TV service providers continuously create opportunities to harness the talents of locals to expose the nation to the world.
Astro, in particular has made various efforts to bring out talents from East Malaysia as well as to educate the nation and the world on the cultures and lifestyles of Sarawakians and Sabahans.
BizHive Weekly speaks to Astro to observe its growth and the evolution of Malaysia’s pay-TV industry.
Revolutionising the TV industry
While digital technology has grown at a rate surpassing expectations, it may seem that consumers these days are more inclined to stay glued to their smart devices, laptops or PC.
However, according to Nielsen Media Index, Malaysians spend an average three to four hours watching TV which is more than any other medium of entertainment.
Nevertheless, for leading pay-TV Astro, it remains committed to capture the market across various platforms.
“We are presently seeing that there is increasing content consumption across multiple screens; with our customers constantly accompanied by smart devices, and enabled with internet connectivity,” Astro executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Rohana Rozhan said in Astro’s Annual Report 2014.
“Content 360 degrees is a core pillar for Astro. Our content is fluid across linear TV, AOTG, radio, publications, film, on ground events and the digital space. We develop online apps and host several dedicated web portals which focus on key genres; for example Astro Gempak, Astro Zhongwen, Astro Ulagam and Stadium Astro.
“In addition, Astro Gempak, which features a wide variety of short-form Malay content, is the number one YouTube channel in Malaysia,” she added.
Rohana further commented, “We are focused on delivering innovative content experiences across the Watch, Listen, Read and Play spaces.
“This highlights our platform-agnostic approach towards delivering content, and will enable us to realise our ambition to be the man source for Malaysians’ content consumption needs.”
Besides that, the pay-TV service provider has also expanded its services from pure linear to include non-linear products and services across multiple screen.
Rohana in a press statement for the release of Astro’s 1HFY15 results, highlighted the additional capacity from the launch of MEASAT-3b satellite is expected to allow Astro to offer its customers more value-added products and services, particularly new HD channels.
Overall, from just 22 channels when it began broadcasting its contents in Malaysia back in the mid-90s, Astro’s TV service has grown to a whopping 172 channels across platforms across its DTH satellite TV, IPTV and over-the-top (OTT) platforms.
More recently, Astro launched its prominent subscription-free NJOI service in 2012 which has continued to change Malaysia’s TV landscape.
The service which is a collaborative initiative between Astro and Malaysia’s government is aimed to offer flexible, subscription-free TV to all Malaysians, including those in remote areas and the underprivileged.
“Our subscription-free NJOI service continues to transform the Malaysian TV landscape. NJOI prepaid services, for which take-up is increasing, are currently accessible via 1,800 dealers nationwide. Strategically, NJOI is a transition platform for our pay-TV service,” Astro said in its 2014 Annual Report.
While Astro provides a large option of channels to choose from and subscribe to on various media platforms, content is still generally a key component for a TV operator.
JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Ltd’s research arm (JP Morgan), in its initiation coverage report of Astro, highlighted, “Breadth of content as well as access to ‘killer’ exclusive content are key issues that govern competition among pay-TV operators, in our opinion.”
JP Morgan believes Astro’s ability to achieve near monopoly market share in Malaysia as well as its premium pricing capabilities places the company at a positive position to broadcast contents to meet its customers’ expectations.
Furthermore, Astro has recognised that as a content focused TV operator, it remains committed to providing innovative contents to reinforce its market leading position.
NJOI, Malaysia’s subscription-free TV
NJOI was first launched in 2012. The service is aimed at Malaysian households or consumers who choose not to commit to a recurring fee for pay TV by providing a multi-channel TV and radio via a prepaid option.
Customers of NJOI pay for what they want to watch without having to subscribe to a monthly fee. Currently, NJOI prepaid cards are available in every telco dealer shop and Astro’s E-pay retailers.
The number of TV and radio stations available on NJOI has increased from 37 to 42 to-date.
Innovating TV – Astro goes the full mile
Among some of the recent major innovative changes and efforts made to improve Astro’s services include the production of more localised contents and the broadcasting of international programmes at real time.
For East Malaysia, Alison Lau, Astro’s regional manager for Sabah and Sarawak highlights that over the years, Astro has also produced various programmes targeted to pique the locals’ interests by bringing programmes that are much closer to home.
Lau noted, one of Astro’s prominent programme which showcases East Malaysia is Astro AEC’s documentary programme: Malaysia My Home.
She explained the programme documents the travels of programmes host to East Malaysia and has even explored places as remote as Kapit and Limbang.
Other than that, another notable programme Astro has broadcasted which highlights East Malaysia’s culture is the recently aired Ride N’ Seek on History Channel Asia.
Lau said, Astro also produces a lot of local programmes which have gone viral amongst East Malaysians. These include Maharaja Lawak, Akademi Fantasia, Astro Classic Golden Melody and many more talent shows.
“Astro believes that when there is a talent show, East Malaysia is very much part of the whole equation,” says Lau.
She further highlighted, past seasons of these Astro-produced talent shows have also seen the success of many East Malaysians on national and even international scale.
“We always find really good talent here in East Malaysia and their participation in our shows has promoted East Malaysia to the nation,” Lau enthused.
Boosting operations in East Malaysia
On its operations in East Malaysia, Lau revealed, Astro has reached 64 per cent TV household penetration rate.
She notes the new NJOI has helped boost Astro’s viewership in Sabah and Sarawak, especially in remote areas.
“Our biggest base of NJOI customers sits in East Malaysia,” Lau said. However, she pointed out that a majority of the remaining TV subscription market in East Malaysia sits in sub-urban and interior areas.
She said, “The challenge that we face in East Malaysia is the broadband reach. The facilities are already there for all our subscribers, just that we can’t reach them.”
Lau recommends NJOI for interested parties living in hard-to-reach areas in Sabah and Sarawak as they could still reach Astro’s various ‘touch-points’ via telco dealers, Bank Simpanan Nasional and its authorised dealers across East Malaysia.
“As we grow over the next two years, we will be building more and more touch points. just to build convenience for the customers,” she said.
Currently, Astro has offices in Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Sibu, Miri, Sandakan and Tawau and in tandem with that, Astro has developed customer service centres with its regional offices throughout East Malaysia.
Spurring the local creative industry
On a nation-wide scale, to boost Malaysia’s creative-content industry, Astro also offers the opportunity for local producers and directors to broadcast their films on their exclusive channels.
In Astro’s announcement of its first half of the financial year 2015 (1HFY15) results, Rohana said, “Astro continues with its aspiration to take its vernacular content franchises beyond Malaysia and have embarked on our very own originals starting with ‘Saloma’ and ‘Takhta’ in our quest to raise the standards of local production and content.
“We have seen positive customer response and will commit to do more to contribute to Malaysia’s creative and production landscape.”
Astro’s in-house intellectual property (IP) content has also spurred its viewership. It said in its 2014 Annual Report, “Our Malay programming continues to scale new heights in viewership. Building on the success of our Maharaja Lawak franchise, we launched new comedy content IPs such as Super Spontan and Asia’s first comedy awards show, Anugerah Lawak Warna, which both hit record highs with viewership of 1.5 million each.”
It also noted that in 2013, for every episode of its self-produced Maharaja Lawak Mega, the TV operator had garnered about one million viewership. Its new Islamic reality programme, Pencetus Ummah, had 3.6 million unique viewers.
Its Chinese content has also grown tremendously. Astro said, “Programmes such as Cin Cai Pun Hua Hee, Hua Hee Kitchen, Hua Hee Everyday Musical and Hua Hee Hokkien Class are designed and produced as non-studio based content to reach out and create a stronger presence within the local community.
“Cin Cai Pun Hua Hee, the first Hokkien game show in Malaysia, was a success with over 25,000 participants across 13 on ground locations throughout the country.”
Sports is also a big event for most Malaysians.
On its international contents, Astro is continuously collaborating with various government ministries and regulatory bodies to address content piracy, which is increasingly shifting online.
Recently, in a bid to draw consumers to watch international TV programmes legally, Astro has launched various international and regional TV programmes set to broadcast at real time.
This means TV shows or series that are currently airing in other countries such as the US, will also be broadcasted live on Astro’s channels.
Lau revealed, “In July this year in our Dynasty pack which caters mainly to the Chinese, has the Astro on Demand option.
“Customers can now watch various series like Hong Kong series on real time as viewers in Hong Kong. We no longer have to wait a week or a month to watch these series with this new service.”
In September, Lau said, Astro launched real-time services for English programmes.
“Astro is continuously looking to provide real-time programmes, to meet our customers’ demand.
“We’ve already brought it up as close as possible. if you watch it on the cinema, a few months later, it’s already on our platform and customers can enjoy these movies for a whole month,” she added.
Astro also provides niche channels such as A-list, which airs multi-language indie movies, and Astro BollyOne HD, which airs Bollywood’s best films in HD.
“We also our video-on-demand which is our Astro First, Astro Best and Astro Box Office,” she added, noting that these channels broadcasts some of the latest and in-demand TV series and movies.
However, she also noted that these services can only be enjoyed via Astro’s new decoder. As such, Lau encourages customers to switch their old decoders to the new ones offered by Astro.
Also, famed for its sports coverage, Astro’s sports channels have grown from broadcasting a wide array of local and international sports events to owning its own local sports such as Pestabola Merdeka football tournament and sepak takraw.
“As we have demonstrated before through our Astro Arena, Malaysia’s only 24/7 local sports channel, we view local sports as a significant opportunity, and will continue to invest in and benefit from its growth,” Astro said in its 2014 Annual Report.
Going beyond entertainment
Astro also places emphasis on nurturing the youths of Malaysia.
Placing learning as an important pillar for the company, Astro said it continues to push its educational brands continue to be strong within this space.
Lau said an initiative Astro has made to boost the education in Malaysia is by providing Astro in most schools, including those in the rural areas.
“In East Malaysia, we try to drive the Astro education in this region by providing Astro decoders with Tutor TV and other revision TV channels in most schools, including rural schools,” she explained.
The Tutor TV experience is integrated together with formal classroom learning and is delivered in an interactive way via five TV channels, complemented by remote control interactivity as well as online, on ground, print and social media activities.
Astro also places emphasis on boosting the English Education in Malaysia. In particular, its Oh My English has become a sensational hit amongst students.
Aside from that, in the sports segment, other than broadcasting sports events, Astro has also taken the initiative to push the sports talent of youths in the nation with the introduction of development programmes: Kem Bola and Kem Badminton.
According to Astro, the programmes provides opportunities for the youths in Malaysia to showcase their talents in sports by joining this training.
These programmes also give opportunities for Malaysian youths to train with some of the best trainers in the world, including Cardiff City Football Club and Kanto Junior Athlete Academy. According to Lau, this year’s batch for Kem Badminton is expected to be trained at top badminton school: Li Yong Bo badminton school in China
“This is to give the children the experience and to teach them the techniques so that they can become more confident. This is the third year we’ve run this.
“When the kids are picked to go, the whole community goes off to see them because they’re proud to see their kids get involved in this kind of opportunity. The programme also gives the exposure to the children as well as the community,” Lau commented.
While broadcasting is Astro’s main business operation, off air, the company conducts various corporate social responsibilities (CSR) to give back to the community.
In Sabah and Sarawak, some notable CSR activities included the establishment of Astro Hostel for rural schools in Sabah and more recently, in Kapit.
With the development of Astro Hostel in SK Malinsau, Ranau, Sabah, Astro Kasih EkoVillage was introduced to foster lifelong learning and improve the sustainable economic development of the community through a practical hands-on approach to agriculture.
According to Astro, in the programme, it developed a 1.5 acre land area at the third Astro Kasih Hostel in SK Malinsau, Ranau, Sabah to provide crops and livestock, to share knowledge and to provide living skills training to the school community.
It also set a new Guinness World Records title for the ‘Longest Underwater Cleanup’ in marine locations surrounding Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
From just 22 channels in the 90s, to more than 170 channels, various self-producing shows and films, and community initiatives, Astro has grown tremendously since its launch.
As a market leader in the pay-TV industry, Astro has benchmarked its contents and initiatives in the overall TV industry and it has also changed the TV landscape in Malaysia as well its consumers’ perspective of TV.
“The pay-TV industry is still going strong. It has evolved overtime. Now, the TV is not only on a TV screen, but on multiple types of screens. With so many media platforms, content has become a very important part of everybody’s life.
“And for Astro, we want to capture the audience through our wide and localised contents which can now be seen through all these different platforms,” Lau concluded.