Pace hots up with pounds 25m contract

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The Independent Online
Pace Micro Technology, Europe's leading satellite receiving equipment manufacturer, yesterday won a crucial foothold in the French digital television market, with the signing of a pounds 25m contract to supply 80,000 digital decoders for Canal Plus, the French pay-television broadcaster.

The deal, along with several earlier contracts for the supply of digital cable and satellite receiving equipment, will require a new production line at the company's Shipley manufacturing centre.

Barry Rubery, the company's chief executive, said that the contract opened up significant digital opportunities, adding that the company had shipped more than 500,000 digital receivers to broadcasters in Australia, Holland, Italy, South Africa, the Middle East and Thailand.

The French contract calls for the use of the SECA digital standard, developed by Canal Plus, which Pace licensed in July 1996.

Pace has said it has a policy of licensing an array of digital standards to fulfill manufacturing contracts with a range of broadcasters. The SECA standard is likely to be used in Spain as well, where Canal Plus plans to launch a digital service in 1998.

A Pace spokesman said: "This deal is very important for us, as it opens up the digital business in France. But even more importantly, it means we may be able to take the SECA standard into other markets, for instance Spain and Germany."

Currently, the Canal Plus set-top box standard has not been adopted by digital broadcasters active in Germany.

But Pace is hoping that the Canal Plus investment in Premiere, the German pay-television company, may still lead to the introduction of a SECA digital television service, for which Pace could supply equipment.

An even bigger order for set-top boxes is expected to be placed in the UK within the next two weeks by BSkyB, Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster. Sky plans to launch a digital satellite service in the autumn of 1997, and has specified a shortlist of five equipment manufacturers, out of an initial 15 applications.

It is understood that at least three manufacturers will share an order of up to 150,000 boxes for the new service, worth perhaps pounds 45m.

Pace is also bidding for contracts in the US, particularly for digital satellite and digital cable set-top boxes.

It has also been in talks with UK cable operators about developing a standard digital cable standard to be marketed throughout the country.

The cable industry is expected to seek a parallel digital launch once BSkyB sets its date for digital satellite.

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