swissinfo/Swiss Radio International (SRI) has joined forces with the satellite service WorldSpace to broadcast across South-East Asia.
Under the deal, the AsiaStar platform will deliver swissinfo/SRI's English-language news and current affairs programme, Newsnet, to the region in a high-quality format.
Nicolas Lombard, director of swissinfo/SRI, said the deal with WorldSpace had come at an ideal time.
"They are the only satellite broadcast service that offers direct broadcast capacities," said Lombard. "We also no longer offer shortwave service to that region."
WorldSpace, which has focused its activities on emerging markets, has two satellites covering Asia and Africa. It plans to launch a third one covering Latin America in the near future.
The satellite provider identified these markets because of the large number of potential listeners and an absence of competition.
To achieve its goals, WorldSpace has implemented recent advances in digital compression technology for broadcasts, which allow for transmissions in CD-quality format.
At the same time, listeners no longer need a separate satellite dish to receive one of more than 40 programmes transmitted by AsiaStar.
Radios with a new, flat antenna can now receive broadcasts directly from the satellite. A number of major manufacturers have committed themselves to this technology, and prices for the receivers start at $50 (SFr75).
While the price may not seem exorbitant, the receivers remain out of reach for many people in Africa and Asia.
"We know that not everybody can afford a receiver, but we are only trying to reach a niche market," said Nicole Johnston, WorldSpace's marketing director.
WorldSpace admits that its decision to promote the new technology is not without risks. However, Johnston believes that with the radio manufacturers on board, there is every chance of success.
"The manufacturers thoroughly analysed the situation, and they obviously thought it worth the money, otherwise they wouldn't have made the investment," she told swissinfo.
Listeners using the receivers can subscribe to certain programmes, and WorldSpace says there has already been a very good response to the new services.
swissinfo/SRI currently broadcasts on shortwave to the Middle East, Africa and South America. However, this is scheduled to end in 2004.
swissinfo/SRI says that if this first experience proves successful, it may consider extending its broadcasts to other parts of the WorldSpace system.
"It depends on how well the special receivers sell, and of course how much WorldSpace wants us to pay for their services," added Nicolas Lombard. "But market penetration will be the deciding factor for us."
WorldSpace says around 80,000 receivers have been sold so far, allowing broadcasts to reach an estimated one million listeners in Africa and Asia.
So far swissinfo/SRI has opted not to transmit across WorldSpace's entire satellite network, preferring to broadcast in a mono format on AsiaStar's east and west beams.
swissinfo/SRI management cited cost as the deciding factor, but added that the new format would offer better quality sound than the shortwave broadcasts that are being phased out.
swissinfo/SRI already broadcasts to South-East Asia via the World Radio Network, which airs the Newsnet news programme on Asiasat-2.
WorldSpace and SRI
Two WorldSpace satellites are operational and one more is planned.
WorldSpace broadcasts to an estimated one million listeners, many in schools or public institutions.
Special subscription services are available.
WorldSpace and SRI
swissinfo/SRI has teamed up with WorldSpace, an American satellite provider, to broadcast its English-language Newsnet programme to Asia.
The WorldSpace system transmits to receivers that do not require large satellite dishes.
WorldSpace is also testing subscription services for niche markets.