UK satellite services yet to produce a champion

Dhaka,  Thu,  25 May 2017
Published : 20 May 2017, 19:16:16
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UK satellite services yet to produce a champion

The Technology Strategy Board launched a campaign five years ago to hand £10,000 to tiny British companies to develop unique satellite services but that has yet to produce a champion. That leaves investors looking for a big payload with only a handful of options, according to a global media report Saturday.

Avanti used to make its money piping advertising to tiny television screens placed at the tills at supermarkets. David Williams, the Welsh ex-banker who founded the company, always had one eye pointing toward the sky and the business was transformed into a satellite player.

Mr Williams nonetheless found himself at the shopping tills again last year but this time as an unwilling seller. Avanti was forced to put itself up for sale as its finances became stretched. Inmarsat was tipped as a potential buyer but it pulled out once its interest became public. The offers that did land were deemed unpalatable by Avanti’s bondholders that were unwilling to take a hit. Instead the company issued more bonds and deferred interest payments as it raised enough money to launch a new satellite.

Sky was not the only company to use satellites to build a media business. Satellite Information Services was another company riding on the beams as one of the biggest suppliers of feeds of live horseracing into betting shops.

The company is owned by the UK’s largest bookmakers as well as Catalyst Media Group, an investment fund that bought a 20 per cent stake in the business in 2005 from UBM. Like Sky, the company also has some outside broadcasting capability harnessing the satellite feeds.

Catalyst has looked to sell the stake in the past but ended up keeping the holding, which now constitutes its only asset. That patience had paid off in dividends, including £20m in 2016, but a renegotiation of the media rights associated with horseracing means that the outlook for 2018 is poor. Catalyst said in March that it expected a 50 per cent reduction in underlying operating results due to lower margins related to its new broadcasting deals.

 
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