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NAB 2009: SES Rides Hi-Def Wave

Satellite operator SES Americom-New Skies announced at NAB that it is providing capacity for six MTV Networks HD channels, which are now being transmitted using MPEG-4 compression on the company's "HD-Prime" distribution platform.

Nickelodeon HD, MTV HD, VH1 HD, Comedy Central HD, Spike TV HD and CMT HD are using two full transponders on the AMC-10 and AMC-11 satellites.

"With HD Prime, MTV Networks is able to deliver the highest quality picture and maximize bandwidth for its distribution partners," said Mike Aloisi, Vice President of Distribution Technology and Affiliate Services, MTV Networks, in a statement. "We're happy to continue our long-standing partnership with SES Americom-New Skies with the deployment of our HD channels on HD-Prime."

SES Americom-New Skies, which is owned by global satellite giant SES S.A. and focuses on the North American market, is now carrying 67 HD channels in total. Other large customers include Discovery HD Theater, Showtime HD and Food Network HD. Sister firm SES Astra, which caters to the European market, broadcasts 69 HD channels over five satellites itself, giving SES S.A. 136 HD channels in total.

Bryan McGuirk, SVP of media services for SES Americom-New Skies, notes that his company has been the beneficiary of the increased proliferation of HDTV displays and the steady competition between cable, satellite and telco providers to raise their HD channel counts.

"At first, companies like Discovery had HD as a boutique thing," says McGuirk. "But now you've seen a real shift, with the industry going full-on on into HD."

In other new business areas, SES Americom-New Skies has also reached a multi-year agreement to distribute "This TV," the new digital multicast channel from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM) and Weigel Broadcasting, on its AMC-3 satellite. The company also announced in Las Vegas that it has signed a five-year distribution and contribution agreement with Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (TBS) to provide CNN delivery to and from Europe and the Middle East.

Turner is using two transponders of capacity (72 megahertz total) aboard the NSS-7 satellite, which has the reach to deliver CNN International to viewers across the EMEA (Europe-Middle East-Africa) region. The same satellite, a hybrid Ku- and C-band satellite located at 338 degrees East over the Atlantic Ocean that also reaches the Americas, is also providing the backhaul of CNN news reports from CNN's London, Moscow, Jerusalem and Baghdad bureaus.

"SES Americom-New Skies and its NSS-7 platform provide the coverage we must have to reach growing CNN audiences across Europe and the Middle East," said John Ball, Turner's Vice President of International Distribution, in a statement.

McGuirk says the CNN deal is emblematic of the new operating model behind SES Americom-New Skies, which was formed last summer when SES S.A. decided to merge its separate SES Americom and New Skies business units. Since then, the new company has worked to integrate its sales forces and booking systems into a single cohesive unit.

"The putting together of the two companies was more than just a cost exercise," says McGuirk. "We're introducing U.S. media companies to our international fleet. Look at CNN booking newsgathering from Europe; we've done their newsgathering for years on the U.S. side. So this is a good symbol of what we can be for U.S. companies."