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ABS-CBN International to Launch TFC in Australia
Following the success of its premium service, The Filipino Channel (TFC), in the US, ABS-CBN International, Inc. (ABS-CBNI) is planning to launch a separate Asian TFC service, starting with Australia and Japan. ABS-CBNI distributes television programs of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. abroad. The programs are delivered through direct-to-home (DTH) satellite systems, cable television systems and blocked time on television stations.

As of June 1999, ABS-CBNI had over 50,000 subscribers in the US. Of these, 35,000 subscribed to TFC by cable and 15,000 subscribed to DTH satellite services. ABS-CBNI also has about 12,000 DTH satellite subscribers in the Middle East. TFC consists mainly of Filipino programs shown on ABS-CBN Channel 2. DTH subscribers receive, in addition to TFC, the Pinoy Blockbuster Channel (PBC) which airs Filipino movies and Sarimanok Network News (SNN), the only 24-hour news network that covers all events of national significance from all Philippine regions.

In planning the Asian TFC, ABS-CBNI aims to respond to the demand from Filipino expatriates in the Asia Pacific. There are approximately 120,000 Filipino migrants and contract workers in Australia and some 250,000 Filipinos in Japan. ABS-CBNI is set to launch operations in Australia in October and in Japan in December. The service will carry the same three-channel bundle (TFC, SNN and PBC) mirrored out of ABS-CBNIs North American signal.

Raffy Jison, ABS-CBNI chief finance officer and director for business development, believes there is room for growth in DTH satellite service. In the US, our growth rate is at 900 DTH subscribers per month while the Middle East continues to average 750 DTH subscribers per month in Saudi Arabia alone. This should increase as soon as we set up our distribution networks in the Gulf States, Oman and Kuwait, he says. However, cable growth in the US is flat due to lack of channel space, the US being a fully developed cable market.

Expansion of Middle East operations is set for the first quarter of next year, to serve an estimated one million Filipinos, mostly contract workers. We expect to reach about 50,000 DTH subscribers in the Middle East over the next five years, Jison adds.

ABS-CBNI also has a license to operate an international long distance telephone service in the US and sells prepaid calling cards to Filipinos living in the US for international calls to the Philippines. ABS-CBNI connects such calls through its switches in the US and the international gateway facilities of Bayan Telecommunications, Inc. (BayanTel) in the Philippines. ABS-CBNI phonecards facilitate approximately 1 million minutes a month in calls to the Philippines. 

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