Israel DTH Launch Date Remains Uncertain

Tel Aviv, Israel-The road to the launch of direct-to-home service YES DBS Services Ltd. was cleared last week when this country's cable companies told the Antitrust Court they accepted the Cable and Satellite Television Council's terms governing the Israeli pay TV industry.

However, the DTH platform is still wavering on when it will actually bow.

The terms reduce YES' exclusive right to offer tiered services to nine months from as many as 24. At the same time, they permit cable companies to jointly acquire programming and coordinate their program scheduling.

In return, the cable companies-Golden Channels, Tevel Israel International Communications Ltd. and Matav Cable Systems Media Ltd.-will be forced to sell almost all the content from their popular Family, Movie, Sports, Children's and Culture channels to rival YES.

However, the MSOs were supposed to begin supplying YES with the channels on a test basis starting May 15, and at press time, they hadn't done so.

Shani Kogan, a research telecommunications analyst for Nessuah Zannex Ltd., stressed the importance of the decision. "Should this not have been resolved now, YES would have been forced to return its license: They simply could not launch without this content," he said. "Now, finally, YES can launch."

On May 12, the Antitrust Court rejected the cable operators' demand to reserve the right to cancel the agreement-which runs for two years-at three months' notice should their planned merger not win government approval.

The cable industry's eventual capitulation now allows YES-which has been hampered by internal wrangling, financial difficulties and a dearth of content-to begin transmissions.

But YES-which initially responded to the agreement by announcing that it would begin broadcasts July 1-later suggested that it might delay its launch until the next day. "We declared that we would launch July 2, but now, we're not committing ourselves to any date-simply July 2000," YES spokeswoman Salit Katz said.

This brought a sharp response from Ministry of Communications spokeswoman Tami Sheinkman, who said, "We hope they will launch July 1. We have not received any request to extend the deadline, and we see no reason to delay beyond that date."