Issue No. 2
Spring 1999
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Broadcast Satellites and Television for Asia:
Global Actors on a Continental Stage

By Amos Owen Thomas

The globalization of the communication industries is sometimes said to lead to developing countries either being excluded from the information age or converted into markets for global products. By the mid-1990s several satellites were broadcasting a wide range of transnational television channels across Asia. While early global/regional satellites and their television channels were seen as instruments of Western imperialism, they were soon followed by satellites launched by and/or channels targeted at national, subnational and diasporic markets across the continent. Using secondary data from industry sources, this paper surveys and classifies the satellites and their channels operating East and South Asia in the early to mid-1990s. It seeks to demonstrate that a media industries approach may be more productive than political economy and cultural studies ones in analyzing the complex relationships among the participants in the Asian television market.

Over the decade of the 1990s Asian skies became increasingly crowded with satellites beaming an array of commercial television channels transnationally. While early global/regional channels such as CNN and StarTV might have been seen as instruments of Western media imperialism, they have been followed by channels partially created within and directed at national markets such as Taiwan and India, and subnational ethnic-language channels targeted at diasporic groups across the continent. Some Asian governments have even taken to beaming their domestic quasi-commercial channels via satellite, intentionally directed towards other countries in their region. Further, transnational satellite channels have specialized into business, entertainment, movie, news, educational, children's, and women's channels among others. This paper will survey the transnational satellite television channels in East and South Asia in the early to mid-1990s and analyze their growth in the context of the political economy and cultural industries of the region.

Setting the stage
Contrary to the expectations of their early proponents, social effects, political economy and cultural studies approaches appear to be converging through an increasing emphasis on producers, regulators and consumers as mutually active participants in the social process of the media, both nationally and globally. Contemporary cultural studies theorists would argue that cultural production, while controlled and manipulated by societal elite, is not deterministic but even invites oppositional readings. Similarly, later social effects approaches temper ideas of powerful media effects with recognition that the media serves to reinforce existing attitudes and behaviors through personal decodings of their message, even when the range of meanings possible are limited. The political economy approach has also been increasingly cognizant of the active role of individuals and groups within the power structures in the media institution, industry, government and wider society. The criticisms of each school of thought might well be answered by another, because they analyze different facets of the same media phenomenon and are able to compensate for excesses or loopholes of the other.

In light of the unprecedented globalization of television via satellite and cable, Comor (1994) makes a case for the micro-level analysis of political economy of communications complementing the macro-level concerns of international political economy in what he terms a "global political economy of communication" approach. A political economy of communication approach, which investigates the power relationships between audiences, producers and distributors all the way from the local level of analysis to the global, is something he deems invaluable for understanding the complex processes of globalization. In his call for renewal of the political economy paradigm, Mosco (1996) surveys the extensive contributions of its exponents historically and internationally, and reminds us of its affinity with cultural studies against positivism. Though cognizant of the challenges of new arenas such as links between production and reception, structural changes in communications industries, and relationships between private and public media, he takes a rather conservative stance that analysis of communications must be located within the wider social, economic and political totality.

Signaling the need to redefine cultural imperialism concerns, McAnany and Wilkinson (1992) advocated more emphasis in media research on the economics of cultural production in particular national, inter- national or inter-corporate contexts. Taking up that theme, Sinclair (1994) argued that in a post-Marxist, postmodern age the search for a meta-theory of mass communication might be misplaced. Instead media analysts would find it more fruitful to theorize at mid-range levels such as the structure of the media industry or to adopt a "cultural industries" approach. As a framework for analysis of the media industry and its constituent corporations such as the present research intends, Wilson (1988) suggested earlier six relevant aspects: ownership, production, technology, distribution, consumption and the role of the state. A number of these are particularly relevant for analysis in the case of transnational television via satellite in Asia, and were incorporated in the wider research on which this paper is based.

Satellite platforms
Ever since Asiasat1 helped StarTV pioneer transnational television broadcasting in Asia, several more satellites have entered the region with ambitions to tap into this fast-growing market. But there have long been publicly owned national and inter-government satellites in operation in Asia, well before Asiasat1, largely for telecommunications and domestic broadcasting in aid of economic development. There have been numerous satellites operating in the region before and since which provide solely telephony, data communications, navigation, geographic survey, meteorology and other such services. Given its purpose, this paper will survey only those satellite platforms utilized by television channels which cover Asia, and to classify them in terms of their ownership and coverage.

Global-multinational satellites
Figure 1: Major global-multinational satellites and their television channels

Satellite systems have historically been the province of inter-governmental organizations such as the capitalist-dominated Intelsat and the communist-dominated Intersputnik, representing the two sides in this surrogate arena of the Cold War. Both have since had to face up to the challenges of the market to their duopoly and are now just two competitors among many in the new global market for satellite systems. Furthermore, Intelsat and Intersputnik have been co-opted by Western and Asian corporations alike seeking fast-track entry into the lucrative businesses of commercial satellite manufacture, ownership, launching, leasing and broadcasting.

Intelsat This consortium of 133 nation-states has 22 powerful satellites globally; 12 of them have large footprints in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific region, carrying such channels as Nippon TV, Deutche Welle TV, ESPN, RFO Tahiti, Channel 7 Thailand, PTS Taiwan, Canal France, Turner, all Australian networks and TVNZ. Faced with commercial competition, Intelsat has begun replacing its aging satellites with Intelsat 7-series and Intelsat 8-series satellites, positioned over the Pacific Ocean. In a break from tradition, Intelsat chose to purchase 50 percent of ChinaSat 5, owned and operated by China, while the Chinese have purchased 45.0-49.9 percent of Intelsat 805, launched in June 1998, covering the Asian landmass (Via Satellite 1994b).

PanAmSat A Latin American commercial rival to Intelsat, PanAmSat has two satellites in the region giving it a global network. Its Pas-2 and Pas-4 beam such channels into Asia as ABN, Disney, NHK International (Japan), CCTV (China), Sony, ABS-CBN, TNT, and Doordarshan International (India). The newer Pas-4 satellite has trans-Indian Ocean coverage, and carries further channels on its specific African and European beams. PanAmSat benefited from the shock failure of the Apstar2 launch when a number of the latter's clients opted to migrate to Pas-4, which has also attracted Indian channels including Doordarshan (Asia Pacific Television: Cable and Satellite 1995:141).

Intersputnik Another international satellite consortium to rival Intelsat since 1971, it comprised the former USSR and its allies in Europe and Asia. Operated by the Russian Ministry of Postal Services and Telecommunications and under the system designation of Stationar, it has a range of ten Gorizont, Ekran and Raguda satellites covering the Asia region. For the Asia region it has plans to launch eight Express series satellites with 10 C-band and 2 Ku-band transponders which will provide steerable spot beams as well as global beams (Cooperman 1995).

Rimsat As a sign of the post-Cold War times the U.S.-owned Rimsat organization operates two Russian-built satellites. One is an aging Gorizont, incidentally used by one of the Indian commercial television channels. The other is a newer Rimsat1 carrying seven transponders and covering a vast area from above the Pacific Ocean, stretching from Alaska in the east, Russia in the north, India in the west and Antartica in the south. It has plans to deploy a fleet of new Express satellites built and launched in Russia using orbital slots of Tongasat (Via Satellite 1994b) the government leasing agency for the seven slots Tonga filed with ITU. continued

Next page: Regional commercial satellites

Figure 1: Major global-multinational satellites and their television channels
Figure 2: Major regional-commercial satellites and their television channels
Figure 3: Major domestic-public satellites and their television channels

Copyright 1999 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo