Industry Roundup

Pioneer buying NEC Plasma: NEC announced Friday Feb 6 that it would sell its plasma display panel (PDP) manufacturing business to Pioneer. NEC plans to concentrate its efforts on "network solutions and semiconductors," according to the announcement. The deal, estimated by Japanese analysts at about $379 million, could make Pioneer the dominant player in the hot plasma display market. The company projects that its PDP market share will rise from 14% to 22% as a result.

Fox goes with PanAmSat fleet: On February 3, the Fox Entertainment Group announced a "a multi-year, multi-satellite, multi-transponder agreement" with PanAmSat Corporation. "Fox will consolidate its entire suite of US programming onto PanAmSat's global fleet for 15 years and move a significant portion of its international traffic onto the fleet for the next decade. Fox will now be one of PanAmSat's largest media customers and one of its top five global customers," according to PRNewswire. In the US, PanAmSat will deliver many popular television programs, including 24, American Idol, The Bernie Mac Show, Malcolm in the Middle, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, The O.C. , The Simpsons, and That 70s Show Globally, PanAmSat will deliver Fox's news, sports and entertainment channels. Two degrees of separation: PanAmSat is 81% owned by Hughes Electronics Corporation, parent company of DirecTV, the recent merger target of News Corporation, parent company of Fox.

Satellite TV services are getting cozy with telecom companies in an attempt to retain subscribers and hold off encroachment by cable providers. DirecTV recently announced a joint marketing and bundled-billing deal with Verizon Communications; on February 4 competitor EchoStar reported a similar deal with Sprint. The deal lets Sprint offer its customers DTV programming and a host of communications services, including local, long distance, wireless, DSL and video - all offered on a single bill. The concept is that subscribers are more likely to use all the services and stick with their providers if everything is gathered into one statement per month. Sprint customers will be able to subscribe to EchoStar's DISH Network and its varied offerings by making one phone call, the announcement stated. The joint service should be in operation within 90 days.

Hatch seeks extension of Satellite Act: On February 5, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced legislation that would extend a provision of the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999 (SHVIA) allowing direct-broadcast satellite carriers to transmit network signals to subscribers who can't get local network affiliates with rooftop antennas. "Local-into-local" retransmission for fringe reception areas was a contentious issue a few years ago, before HDTV was available, and required an act of Congress to resolve it. Washington observers say the new Hatch bill could launch a "massive lobbying battle between local broadcasters and satellite carriers over distribution of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox programming in HDTV . . ." according to a Reuters news report. The bill would extend "local-into-local" for another five years. If it fails to pass, millions of satellite subscribers would lose their network feeds after December 31 of this year.

Wireless cable: Oxymoronic as it may sound, "wireless cable" may become a reality thanks to a new technology developed by an engineering consortium led by Texas Instruments. Multiband OFDM is said to offer the advantages of wireless connections throughout a home, but with far lower power requirements and far broader bandwidth than the popular Wi-Fi format. The Multiband OFDM Alliance should release specifications for the technology in May, with products expected in 2005.