SHANGHAI Subscribers to digital cable TV in China hit 14.2 million in the first quarter, driven by interest in Beijing, Guangdong, Guangxi, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Sichuan, according to a report from market researcher Analysys International.
Last year, the digital cable market more than tripled. Chip companies expect the market will double this year to about 25 million subscribers as China continues its effort to switch users from analog services.
Leaders in the DVB-C chip market here include STMicroelectronics and NXP Semiconductors, but a few small local firms are also getting in on the action, including Montage Technology. China's second largest fabless design house, Vimicro Corp., is also mulling whether it should enter the market. "There are no national operators here like Comcast in the US, so it's basically a city by city decision making process. As a Chinese company, we can have some advantage there by offering a lot of support," said Mike Yu, a vice president at Vimicro.
China seems to be slowly overcoming its challenge of kick-starting the analog-to-digital transition even though it is still behind target. China had wanted to see 100 million DTV households by 2008, when it plans to air HDTV content from the Summer Olympics in Beijing. A 2015 deadline is in place to end analog broadcasts.
By the end of 2005, only 4.1 million households were using digital TV services, mostly based on cable, according to government figures. That was up considerably from 1 million households the year before, but far short of the government's target, set in 2005, of 30 million households.
Hurdles include a lack of compelling content that would motivate users to change and the cost of the set-top box and services. Chinese domestic set-top box vendors control the digital cable market for conditional access, led by Novel Tongfang with 44 percent and DVN with 33 percent.
Overseas vendors Irdeto Access and Nagravision increased their market share in the first quarter to 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively, while NDS's market share declined to 6 percent, according to Analysys International. Conditional access card issuance totaled 1.8 million.
China is not only one of the fastest-growing markets for digital terrestrial and cable TV, but also a major exporter of digital set-top boxes. That has drawn the attention of the MPEG Licensing Agency. Earlier this year, Chinese makers of digital set-top boxes appeared to be on a collision course with MPEG-2 patent owners over unpaid royalties.
As Chinese set-top box makers ramp up production, the MPEG LA is warning them either to pay $2.50 per set-top box or face legal action. Chinese companies are cringing at that number, saying it will wipe out most of their profit. Negotiations are on-going.
According to ABI Research, China will be a leader in set-top box shipments, cranking out 75 million digital cable and 9 million IP TV boxes by 2012.