SKYcable’s feat of setting up 10 viewing stations for typhoon survivors only four days after Yolanda hit the Visayas is a story that gets better with every retelling. So much so that written up as “Tugon ng SKY sa Yolanda: Saya at Pag-asa para sa Kapamilyang Nasalanta,” it has become part of Lopez Group lore—along with ABS-CBN’s “Tulong Na, Tabang Na, Tayo Na” and Energy Development Corporation’s “Bangon, EDC. “Tugon ng SKY sa Yolanda” was recognized with a coveted Lopez Achievement Award back in 2014.
SKY, together with a group from ABS-CBN, had looked for areas where people could converge, recalled a team member. Watching news stories about themselves at the SKY viewing sites, stunned and weary survivors become inspirited, realizing that “help is on the way, kaya natin ‘to (we can get through this),” she had added.
But on their end, SKY was also grappling with its own roadblock.
“We were using a dish that we did not own. We had channels like DZMM TeleRadyo and ANC that we thought were important to air in those areas which we talked to another direct- to-home (DTH) provider to carry. In turn, we purchased DTH units from them so as to be able to transmit news feeds coming from our channels,” recalls Claudia Suarez, head of Pay TV for SKY.
Suarez is a 17-year Lopez Group veteran, having joined SKYcable in 1999 as managing director of the home shopping channel SkyMall. She then moved to ABS-CBN Interactive where she capped her eight-year stint with the startup as head of its Mobile and Online Entertainment Group. In 2008, she returned to SKY to head its Programming and Airtime group. Today, the Ateneo de Manila alumna concurrently serves as head of the Pay TV LOB, which covers SKYcable and SKYdirect.
That endeavor in 2013, she notes now, also planted the seed that ultimately bore the fruit that would become the newest SKY offering.
“It strengthened the idea that we needed to put a similar service out. We said that the next time we do such, it should be delivered using our SKY DTH service already and not something that we could only do via our competitor,” Suarez adds.
In fact, SKY’s own application to offer a DTH cable TV service had by then been on the table for about a year.
Earlier this year, TV viewers were finally introduced to SKY’s own DTH product called SKYdirect by its celebrity endorser, Kris Aquino.
Formally launched in May 2016, SKYdirect is the newest SKY Pay TV product, joining SKYcable which now has about 800,000 subscribers. SKYdirect lets subscribers enjoy content from SKYcable by way of a DTH satellite service.
“DTH completes our total product offering for premium pay TV services. Right now we have cable, where we cover key cities nationwide. The goal is to bring information and entertainment to all the Filipino families, and the SKYdirect DTH service is the platform that can reach each and every home nationwide. The main vision is to bring the SKY experience to any Filipino anywhere they are in the Philippines,” says Suarez.
DTH or wired cable?
Wondering whether to go cable or DTH? The chief draw of cable is that it allows customization of a cable plan that a customer wants to have, choosing from a buffet of almost 200 channels, some 50 of which are high-definition (HD) and with options from five pay-per-view channels and catch-up viewing using SKY’s video-on-demand service.
“With DTH, the current offering is a fixed channel lineup, but a well thought of one backed up by research and ratings,” explains Suarez. “Additionally we launched it primarily as a prepaid service with a price point of as low as P99, which made it very affordable.”
While cable has the advantage in terms of flexibility, DTH clearly has the edge when it comes to reach, value and ease of access—which was why when SKYdirect was rolled out two months ago, it was available nationwide starting on Day 1, whether one lived in Ilocos, Leyte or Cagayan de Oro.
“It makes sense to roll out our cable service where population is dense enough to recover the investment. However, it will be costly to build it in areas where the houses are far apart,” the Pay TV head says.
DTH, meanwhile, basically works as a floating TV antenna that’s located in space: the satellite will beam the signal to everyone within its footprint, in this case the Philippines. It is the most cost-efficient way to reach the less urban cities and rural towns.
Upping the ante
Despite being the newest player in the DTH game, the upstart SKYdirect has upped the ante in the area where it matters most—content.
Says Suarez: “Our unique proposition lies in the channels that we have through ABS-CBN and Creative Programs Inc.—ABS-CBN HD, ABS-CBN Sports+Action HD, ANC, Cinema One, MYX, Lifestyle and Jeepney TV, and the ABS-CBN TVplus channels Yey!, CineMo, Knowledge Channel and DZMM TeleRadyo. Aside from these, compare SKYdirect’s channel lineup with competition. We definitely have more of the must-have cable channels that’s relevant to every member of the family. This is true not only for SKYdirect but also for SKYcable.”
Having a dish set up on one’s rooftop might seem laborious, but the whole process, from purchasing the kit to installation to indulging in the wonders of SKYdirect, is actually quite simple.
New subscribers who are not subscribed to any DTH provider only have to purchase the SKYdirect kit from the nearest dealer in his area with a onetime fee of P3,990. If the subscriber already has a DTH dish, they only need to pay P1,799. Upon payment of the installation fee, the crew from SKYdirect will take care of the rest, including installing the dish on the client’s rooftop.
To reload, one can simply use their ABS-CBN mobile or Globe load, purchase a prepaid card or prepaid load at SKYdirect dealers, at 7-11 or any SM outlet.
SKYdirect currently offers three prepaid load variants. At P99 a month, SKYdirect 99 is lightest on the pocket with its four HD channels, including NBA Premium HD and Cartoon Network HD, and 22 standard-definition (SD) channels, all good for 30 days.
SKYdirect 250 for P250, also valid for 30 days, trots out HBO HD as one of its six HD channels plus 26 SD channels.
The SKYdirect 450 denomination, which offers nine HD channels and 32 SD channels, not only packs in exclusive channels but also a wider range of viewing options for all members of the family.
According to Suarez, SKYdirect will also offer postpaid packages in selected areas starting this month
Suarez expresses optimism that SKYdirect will bring in the numbers for SKY in terms of pay TV subscribers on a national scale, noting that it is a “strong and relevant family product.”
“There was a perception that SKY, because it was concentrated in the urban areas, was just for the high-tier market. With SKYdirect, we are able to show that the SKY product is accessible to all segments of the market. It’s relevant content for the right value—that’s the offering that SKY has today for both cable and DTH.”
She shares an anecdote about a client who wanted to have SKYdirect in his house in one of the provincial areas as he had to catch the events of the past presidential elections. The next day, the team came to his place and installed SKYdirect.
“He was very happy. Because of the fast service, he was kept abreast of the news. That’s the experience that we want everybody to have. If you want premium cable TV service, we can now make it happen anywhere you are. In the end, it all goes back to being in the service of the Filipino,” Suarez says.