AMSTERDAM -- Satellite equipment provider EchoStar is giving European operators a closer look at its Hopper with Sling combination set-top box this week. Already an established hit in the U.S. with Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH) subscribers, the demo is a way to show what's possible as satellite, cable and telco delivery methods evolve on the continent and elsewhere.
Updated Sept. 14: EchoStar's Hopper was recognized as the top whole-home DVR at IBC in the CSI Awards, a competition sponsored by Cable and Satellite International magazine.
Europe's unique cable infrastructure and varied regulations means many parts of the region are not yet ready for the MoCA-based DVR best known for its ad-skipping capability, said Rhod Williams, SVP and general manager of EchoStar Europe.
On top of that, much of the continent recently completed an expensive conversion to all-digital and HD infrastructure. Andreas Bereckzy, EVP of technology and production at Germany-based ZDF, said in a session Thursday that his company invested $100 million in full HD. After multi-year projects featuring large capital expenditures, it's not surprising that operators may be reluctant to spend more on other new technologies.
Still, Williams said the Hopper may attract operator customers sooner rather than later, as they may not have to spend as much to upgrade to the device. "It's an in-home expense, not an uplink or a head-end spend," he said. However, "a lot of metadata needs to be injected into the feed. It's not cost prohibitive, but it is a change, to the next level."
A number of market factors will influence how quickly and how well products like the Hopper with Sling take hold outside the United States. The product's target demographic is the high-disposable-income, age 25 to 45 crowd, as well as tech-savvy teenagers. However, Europeans have fewer television sets in the home than Americans--1.8 on average--and they have different viewing habits. "In the UK, they use the commercial break to make tea," Williams said, because the breaks come at the same time and for the same length during a TV show. "I don't know if it's acceptance or tolerance" of the ads, he said, but he doesn't know if those viewers would understand and rapidly adopt the Hopper's ad-skipping feature with as much enthusiasm as American subscribers did.
Regulatory issues are another big area--each country has its own set of broadcast rules, something the European Commission has tried, without success, to standardize. And content rights are an even bigger inhibitor in Europe than in the United States, as operators have to negotiate those rights between countries and between other broadcasters and providers.
EchoStar is by no means keeping Hopper out of the market. Rather, the company is working with operator customers on an individual basis to meet their set-top box needs. For many satellite operators and smaller cablecos, it's their Whole Home DVR Plus solution, which offers an easier and more cost-effective entry to the whole home segment.
Williams said he's glad to see Liberty Global's (Nasdaq: LBTYA) hybrid Horizon set-top box taking off. "Horizon is making a splash, finally," he said, noting that the box started rolling out in Ireland last week. However, he noted that smaller cablecos likely don't have the capital to invest in that product.
Above all, in deciding whether to to provide CPE like Hopper-Sling or Horizon, "you can't forget the consumer," he said. "Can you pull them to that level? Do they genuinely want it?"
- EchoStar issued this release
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