The commercial potential of Bangabandhu Satellite–1 is finally coming into being more than a year after its launch as all 34 local television channels are set to start commercial transmission through it from October 2.
At present, six of the 30 private channels -- Deepto TV, Somoy TV, Jamuna TV, Bijoy TV, Bangla TV and MY TV -- and the four state-owned stations are broadcasting via the country’s lone satellite, which was launched into orbit on May 12 last year under a project amounting to Tk 2,702 crore.
The rest are doing test transmission from the satellite.
“We found Bangabandhu satellite’s quality to be the best,” said Zahirul Islam Adar, chief engineer of ATN Bangla.
Through Bangabandhu Satellite–1 the channels are getting about 100 percent reception, whereas with the other options the maximum signal strength is 85 percent, said Adar, also a broadcast operation and engineering consultant at ATN News.
To incentivise the local private channels to switch to Bangabandhu Satellite-1, its operator Bangladesh Communication Satellite Company Ltd (BCSCL) is offering a discounted rate, said the company’s Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood.
For the next one year, the BCSCL is offering Tk 1.57 lakh for per Megahertz (MHz) of spectrum a month, down from their regular rate of Tk 1.95 lakh. In contrast, Hong Kong-based Star Alliance, which the Bangladeshi TV channels used thus far, charges $4,000 to $5,000 (Tk 3.40 lakh to Tk 4.25 lakh).
According to industry insiders, Star Alliance is now offering a discounted rate of $2,000 per MHz to Bangladeshi channels to fight off competition from the BCSCL.
But the TV channels are not renewing their contracts with Star Alliance.
About 40 percent of Bangabandhu Satellite-1’s capacity has been leased out in the local market since its launch, according to Mahmood.
“The demand is rising rapidly in Bangladesh. All the local channels have tested the satellite and found tremendous quality,” he added.
Earlier, Akash, a local direct-to-home (DTH) service provider of Beximco Communication, took six transponders from the satellite. Bangabandhu Satellite-1 has 40 transponders in total and the televisions will use about 5.5 transponders.
Bangladesh Army is in talks with the BCSCL to take two transponders, while VSATs, navy and air force will take one transponder each.
It will take eight years to recover the cost of launching Bangabandhu Satellite-1’s cost, according to the project proposal.
The government has in principle decided to launch two more satellites and the BCSCL has started consultations with stakeholders about Bangabandhu Satellite-2.
Meanwhile, the Association of Television Channel Owners (ATCO), however, has voiced some concerns about going all in with Bangabandhu Satellite-1.
Since their broadcasting infrastructure was geared toward Star Alliance’s satellite, the TV channels are now using an ad hoc mechanism to transmit from Bangabandhu Satellite-1.
They are now sending their programmes through a fibre optic cable to the Bangabandhu satellite’s ground station in Gazipur and from there the programmes are uplinked.
“This is risky as the fibre optic cable can break down any time and it will be a challenge for us then,” said Anjan Chowdhury, president of the ATCO.
Subsequently, the ATCO has sought a place in Dhaka to set up their uplink stations.
Chowdhury, also the managing director of Maasranga Television, said the Bangabandhu satellite’s low footprint in the Middle East and absence of coverage in Europe were another challenge for the local TV channels.