SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – In the middle of a hectic clubhouse, Giants relief pitcher Will Smith found a free minute and an open table to get caught up on his fan mail.He tore through a stack of white envelopes one by one, unfolding each personalized note, using a Sharpie to put his autograph across the dozens of baseball cards bearing his name, then stuffing them into self-addressed stamped envelopes to be returned to their senders.“This is like a week (of mail) stacked up,” he said, laughing at …
Share Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest After a trip to Indianapolis for the 92nd National FFA Convention and Expo, Matt, Dale, and Kolt are here with a recap of the whole week. Kolesen McCoy became the third FFA member from Ohio to become National FFA President, and we catch up with him in the podcast. Additionally, highlighting Ohio FFA’s success, we caught up with some members of the Covington UVCC FFA Chapter who was named the Model of Excellence Chapter for the country. Matt also sat down with a few of the Ohio FFA state officers to catch up about the National FFA Convention. All of that and more this week on the Ohio Ag Net Podcast brought to you by AgriGold.
Monday marked the 18th anniversary of Tracy McGrady’s first game back in Toronto after leaving the Raptors to sign with Orlando. Booed all night by a capacity crowd, McGrady scored 24 points as the Magic won 104-101.UP NEXTMagic: Host New York on Wednesday.Raptors: At Brooklyn on Wednesday.Sports Related Videospowered by AdSparcRead Next Danny Green scored a season-high 29 points, Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka each had 15 and the Toronto Raptors clinched their sixth Atlantic Division title Monday night, rallying from a double-digit deficit to beat the Magic 121-109.“We’ve got to know who we are,” Clifford said. “We ain’t scoring 115 every night. We don’t have that kind of roster. We have to defend, whether we’re scoring or not.”FEATURED STORIESSPORTSPrivate companies step in to help SEA Games hostingSPORTSPalace wants Cayetano’s PHISGOC Foundation probed over corruption chargesSPORTSSingapore latest to raise issue on SEA Games food, logisticsThe win also means Toronto can finish no lower than second in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors began the day three games behind Milwaukee for first.Green piled up the points despite jamming his left thumb in the first quarter. X-rays were negative but Green was not available following the game because he had left to undergo additional testing. LATEST STORIES MOST READ Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives between Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) and center Khem Birch (24) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Toronto on Monday, April 1, 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)TORONTO — Even though his team was ahead by seven points after the opening quarter, Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford didn’t like what he’d seen on defense.Turns out he was right to be worried.ADVERTISEMENT Wintry storm delivers US travel woes before Thanksgiving Colombia protesters vow new strike after talks hit snag Bloomberg: US would benefit from more, not fewer, immigrants “We had played them three other times where they didn’t get to 100,” Clifford said. “They had more readiness tonight than we did.”Toronto trailed by 11 points early in the second before turning the game around with a 31-10 rally before halftime. The Raptors pulled away after the break, leading by as many as 24.“They picked up the intensity late in that second quarter and we never really responded,” Fournier said. “It’s that simple.”Nikola Vucevic had 13 points and 13 rebounds, but the Magic lost for the second time in three games after winning their previous six. Fournier scored 21 points.“We just didn’t play good defense all game long,” Vucevic said.Orlando remained a half-game behind Miami for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.The three teams ahead of Orlando all lost Monday. Miami lost at Boston, Brooklyn lost at home to Milwaukee and Detroit lost at Indiana.Asked whether he paid attention to the Magic’s closest competitors, Fournier lifted his cellphone to reveal an NBA scoreboard.“It’s impossible not to look,” he said. “We’re the ninth seed right now, so we have to look at other teams.”Toronto won its fourth straight and improved to 31-9 at home. Only Milwaukee (32) has more home wins this season. Green connected on 11 of 15 attempts, going 7 of 10 from 3-point range, before sitting out the final quarter.“He’s an elite shooter,” Orlando’s Evan Fournier said. “That’s what he’s known for.”First-year coach Nick Nurse said he was proud to help hang another banner in Toronto.“There’s a lot of satisfaction in it,” he said. “I know it doesn’t mean a lot in this day and age but it’s not every day you win a division. That’s a thumbs up, man.”Marc Gasol scored 13 points and Kyle Lowry had 12 as the Raptors snapped a two-game losing streak against the Magic.ADVERTISEMENT LeBron James out for Fiba World Cup, says 2020 Olympics ‘possibility’ Private companies step in to help SEA Games hosting Cayetano: Senate, Drilon to be blamed for SEA Games mess Up 36-29 after one, Orlando led 42-31 on Fournier’s basket at 10:22 of the second before Toronto responded. The Raptors took their first the lead on a four-point play by Gasol at 1:49 and were up 62-52 at halftime.“Once our offense stopped clicking, they took a big lead,” Vucevic said.TIP-INSMagic: Orlando shot 12 for 33 from 3-point range. … Wes Iwundu shot 7 for 7 and scored 16 points. … Canadian Khem Birch scored 11 points off the bench. Birch is from Montreal. … Former Raptors guard Terrence Ross shot 2 for 10 and scored six points.Raptors: Leonard paid tribute to slain rapper Nipsey Hussle with a message on his shoes. Hussle was fatally shot Sunday outside the clothing store he founded to help rebuild his troubled South Los Angeles neighborhood. … F OG Anunoby (concussion) missed his third straight game. … Toronto’s 29-point defeat at Orlando last Dec. 28 is its most lopsided loss of the season.DAN THE MANGreen made his first five shots and scored 16 points in the first, going 4 of 5 from long range. Green’s previous high this season was 24, set against Memphis on Jan. 19, when he made a career-high eight 3-pointers. He scored a career-high 33 against Phoenix on April 11, 2014.HARDWARE HAULToronto F Chris Boucher picked up a pair of G League awards Monday, winning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. He’s the first player to win both awards in the same season, and the first international player to be named MVP. Boucher, 26, is from Montreal. He averaged 27.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.1 blocked shots in 28 games with Raptors 905.WHEN T-MAC CAME BACK View comments Google Philippines names new country director PH underwater hockey team aims to make waves in SEA Games PLAY LIST 02:42PH underwater hockey team aims to make waves in SEA Games01:44Philippines marks anniversary of massacre with calls for justice01:19Fire erupts in Barangay Tatalon in Quezon City01:07Trump talks impeachment while meeting NCAA athletes02:49World-class track facilities installed at NCC for SEA Games02:11Trump awards medals to Jon Voight, Alison Krauss Panelo: Duterte ‘angry’ with SEA Games hosting hassles Don’t miss out on the latest news and information. Trump tells impeachment jokes at annual turkey pardon event
The need to relocate to a different installation every several years is one of the most stressful aspects of military life, a requirement that hinders the ability of spouses to maintain careers and frequently interferes with children’s progression in school. A new RAND Corp. study found that the multitude of programs, policies and services DOD has implemented to help military families cope with the disruptions caused by permanent change of station (PCS) moves is comprehensive, and it did find evidence of a need for new programs.On the other hand, the researchers were unable to demonstrate that those efforts work. “We don’t have good evidence of the efficacy of the current policy and services,” RAND researcher Patricia Tong told Military.com. “In terms of whether we found that there were gaps in existing policy and services to cover this broad list of disruptions — we didn’t find any,” Tong said.The results, however, indicated there is room to improve the PCS move process to further alleviate family disruptions, particularly by increasing the lead time before a move is scheduled so that service members and their families have more time to plan their relocation. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Farrow Dan Cohen AUTHOR
Space,I’m shocked — shocked! — to learn that stores are turning Labor Day into an excuse to sell stuff. Wait — no, I’m not. As much as I respect the original intent of the holiday (which became official back in 1894), to most of us, it’s just a bonus day off — one that’s blissfully tacked onto a weekend. So, yeah, stores; go ahead, run your sales. I’m listening. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Labor Day doesn’t bring out bargains to compete with the likes of Black Friday (which will be here before you know it), but there are definitely some sales worth your time.For example:We’ve rounded up the best Labor Day mattress deals.We’ve also gathered the best Labor Day laptop deals at Best Buy.The 2019 Vizio P Series Quantum is back under $999.Be sure to check out Amazon’s roughly three dozen Labor Day deals on TVs and audio. Google Express is having a big sale as well, one that includes deals on game consoles, AirPods, iPhones, laptops and more.Below I’ve rounded up a handful of individual items I consider to be the cream of the crop, followed by a handy reference guide to other Labor Day sales. Keep in mind, of course, that products may sell out at any time, even if the sale itself is still running. Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page. Amazon $60 at Best Buy Mentioned Above Apple iPhone XS (64GB, space gray) Boost Mobile Turo: Save $30 on any car rental CNET may get a commission from retail offers. Angela Lang/CNET Sarah Tew/CNET Sci-Tech Cosmic dead ringers: 27 super strange-looking space objects What’s cooler: A snapshot of a firework exploding in front of you, or full 360-degree video of all the fireworks and all the reactions to seeing them? Oooh, ahhh, indeed. At $250, the compact Rylo dual-lens camera is selling for its lowest price yet. And for an extra $50, you can get the bundle that includes the waterproof housing.This deal runs through Sept. 3; it usually costs $500. See it Recently updated to include digital-photo-frame capabilities, the Lenovo Smart Clock brings Google Assistant goodness to your nightstand. It’s a little smaller than the Amazon Echo Show 5, but also a full $30 less (and tied with Prime Day pricing) during this Best Buy Labor Day sale. Sarah Tew/CNET Tags $261 at Daily Steals via Google Express $210 at Best Buy 27 Photos 7 See at Amazon Share your voice Spotify and most other streaming services rely on compressed audio, which robs the listener of full fidelity. Enter Tidal, the only “major” service that delivers lossless audio — meaning at least on par with CD quality, if not better. Want to see (er, hear) the difference for yourself? Grab this excellent extended trial while you can. It’s just $6 for three months, and it’s good for up to six listeners. Other Labor Day sales you should check out Best Buy: In addition to some pretty solid MacBook deals that have been running for about a week already, Best Buy is offering up to 40% off major appliances like washers, dryers and stoves. There are also gift cards available with the purchase of select appliances. See it at Best BuyDell: Through Aug. 28, Dell is offering an extra 12% off various laptops, desktops and electronics. And check back starting Aug. 29 for a big batch of Labor Day doorbusters. See it at DellGlassesUSA: Aug. 29 – Sept. 3 only, you can save 65% on all frames with promo code labor65. See it at GlassesUSALenovo: The tech company is offering a large assortment of deals and doorbusters through Labor Day, with the promise of up to 56% off certain items — including, at this writing, the IdeaPad 730S laptop for $700 (save $300).See it at LenovoLensabl: Want to keep the frames you already love and paid for? Lensabl lets you mail them in for new lenses, based on your prescription. From now through Sept. 2 only, you can save 20% on the blue light-blocking lens option with promo code BLOCKBLUE. See it at LensablSears: Between now and Sept. 7, you can save up to 40% on appliances (plus an additional 10% if you shop online), up to 60% on mattresses, up to 50% on Craftsman products and more. The store is also offering some fairly hefty cashback bonuses. See it at SearsNote: This post was published previously and is continuously updated with new information.CNET’s Cheapskate scours the web for great deals on tech products and much more. For the latest deals and updates, follow the Cheapskate on Facebook and Twitter. Questions about the Cheapskate blog? Find the answers on our FAQ page, and find more great buys on the CNET Deals page. Read DJI Osmo Action preview Apple AirPods with Wireless Charging Case: $155 (save $45) Share your voice Lenovo Smart Clock: $59.99 (save $20) Apple iPhone XS DJI Osmo Action camera: $261 (save $89) Read the AirPods review See It $59 at eBay $999 Read Google Home Hub review Rylo The Cheapskate $999 Best laptops for college students: We’ve got an affordable laptop for every student. Best live TV streaming services: Ditch your cable company but keep the live channels and DVR. Comments $155 at Google Express Formerly known as the Google Home Hub, Google’s Nest Hub packs a wealth of Google Assistant goodness into a 7-inch screen. At $59, this is within a buck of the best price we’ve seen. It lists for $129 and sells elsewhere in the $89-to-$99 range.This is one item of many available as part of eBay’s Labor Day Sale (which, at this writing, doesn’t specifically mention Labor Day, but that’s how it was pitched to us). $299 at Amazon Turo is kind of like Uber meets Airbnb: You borrow someone’s car, but you do all the driving. I’ve used it many times and found it a great alternative to traditional car-rental services — in part because you get to choose exactly the vehicle you want (not just, say, “midsize”) and in part because you can often do pickup and dropoff right outside baggage claim.Between now and Sept. 1, the first 300 people to check out can get $30 off any Turo rental with promo code LDW30. An Echo Dot makes a fine match for any Fire edition TV, because you can use the latter to say things like, “Alexa, turn on the TV.” Right now, the 24-inch Insignia Fire TV Edition starts at just $100, while the 32-inch Toshiba Fire TV Editions is on sale for $130. Just add any Fire TV Edition to your cart, then add a third-gen Echo Dot, and presto: The latter is free. Tidal 3-month family subscription: $5.99 (save $54) Rylo 5.8K 360 Video Camera: $250 (save $250) Review • iPhone XS review, updated: A few luxury upgrades over the XR Free Echo Dot with an Insignia or Toshiba TV (save $50) 1 Read the Rylo camera preview Comment Sprint Sarah Tew/CNET See at Turo Preview • iPhone XS is the new $1,000 iPhone X Use promo code 19LABOR10 to get an unusually good deal on JBL’s interesting hybrid product — not quite headphones, and not quite a traditional speaker, but something you wear like neckphones to listen to music on the go. See It Turo TVs Speakers Mobile Accessories Cameras Laptops Automobiles Smart Speakers & Displays Best Buy Read Lenovo Smart Clock review $999 DJI’s answer to GoPro’s action cameras is rugged little model that’s shockproof, dustproof and waterproof down to 11 meters. It normally runs $350, but this deal drops it to $261 when you apply promo code 19LABOR10 at checkout. I thought this might be a mistake, but, no, the weirdly named HP Laptop 15t Value is indeed quite the value at this price. Specs include an Intel Core i7 processor, 12GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive and a 15.6-inch display. However, I strongly recommend paying an extra $50 to upgrade that display to FHD (1,920×1,080), because you’re not likely to be happy with the native 1,366×768 resolution. See It $999 HP Laptop 15t Value: $520 (save $780) $520 at HP JBL Soundgear wearable speaker: $90 (save $160) $90 at Daily Steals via Google Express Google Nest Hub: $59 (save $70) Chris Monroe/CNET $6 at Tidal Sarah Tew/CNET The exoplanets are located in the star’s habitable zone. University of Göttingen, Institute for Astrophysics As far as the universe goes, Teegarden’s star, a faint red-dwarf, is located pretty much next door. Astronomers have discovered two intriguing planets located in the star’s habitable zone where they could possibly host liquid water.A research team led by the University of Gottingen in Germany announced the Earth-like exoplanet discovery on Tuesday. Teegarden’s star sits just 12.5 light-years away from us, but it’s very different from our own sun. It’s much cooler and dimmer and wasn’t even discovered until 2003.Enlarge ImageThis illustration imagines the view from the Teegarden’s star exoplanets back toward our solar system and Earth. University of Göttingen, Institute for Astrophysics “The two planets resemble the inner planets of our solar system,” said Mathias Zechmeister, lead author of a study on the exoplanets in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. They are both slightly heavier than Earth and might be part of a larger system with more planets.Before we get too excited, it’s important to remember that “Earth like” is no guarantee of a planet hosting life. The discovery came about through the Carmenes project, which is focused on finding exoplanets around small, cool stars. Carmenes had already located nine other exoplanets.One fun feature of the planets around Teegarden’s star involves the star’s particular location. Possible alien occupants could conceivably look toward our solar system and spot Earth transiting the sun. This creates a faint dimming of our own star as our planet passes in front of it.Perhaps at the same time we’re looking toward Teegarden’s star, extraterrestrials are looking back at us, wondering if Earth could sustain life as they know it. In this wide, wonderful universe, it’s a possibility. Tags Though not technically a Labor Day sale, it’s happening during Labor Day sale season — and it’s too good not to share. Nationwide Distributors, via Google Express, has just about the best AirPods deal we’ve seen (when you apply promo code ZBEDWZ at checkout). This is for the second-gen AirPods with the wireless charging case. Can’t imagine these will last long at this price, so if you’re interested, act fast. The problem with most entry-level laptops: They come with mechanical hard drives. That makes for a mighty slow Windows experience. This Lenovo model features a 128GB solid-state drive, so it should be pretty quick to boot and load software, even with its basic processor. Plus, it has a DVD-burner! That’s not something you see in many modern laptops, especially at this price. Lenovo 130-15AST 15.6-inch laptop: $210 (save $90)
TencentReutersEducation technology startup Byju’s is clearly on a roll. The online tutoring firm has hit headlines several times in the last few weeks and now has landed a fundraising deal with Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Limited. The firm already has a list of renowned investors such as the Chan Zuckerberg initiative and Sequoia Capital.While the exact value of the investment has not been revealed, a source told TechCrunch that the amount could be in the range of Rs 5,000 crore ($800 million). Tencent, which already invests in Indian firms such as Flipkart, Practo and Hike, seems impressed with the way Byju has been growing and functioning to emerge as a market leader.”BYJU’S has emerged as the clear leader in the Indian education-tech sector. We share BYJU’S mission of transforming education by creating personalized learning experiences for students,” Hongwei Chen, executive director of investment and M&A at Tencent, said, according to TC.Tencent’s funding is set to help Byju in product development for existing as well as new markets. “This makes our strong investor portfolio even more diverse. At Byju’s, we have been fortunate to have investors who have always played a crucial role as partners in our growth story. With increased brand awareness and strong adoption amongst students, this year we expect the revenue to double again and we will be profitable on a full year basis,” the Economic Times quoted Byju Raveendran, founder of Byju’s as saying.The firm, which started operations in 2011, has witnessed a funding of over $200 million before Tencent’s investment. While Sequoia invested $75 million last March, the Chan Zuckerberg initiative put in $50 million in the company. Later, the World Bank’s IFC fund invested about $15 million in December.Apart from the fundraising spree, Byju’s has also been in the news for its acquisitions. Earlier this month, the online tutoring firm acquired TutorVista and Edurite from global education brand Pearson Plc. While the acquisition is said to be big, the deal value is yet to be disclosed.”This partnership will enhance our product offerings and give us access in some of the new markets when we launch our international products. We are excited to work with the talented and experienced team who will come on-board as a part of this acquisition,” Live Mint quoted Raveendran as saying. 80 Strand Shell Mex House in London, the headquarters of PearsonWikiCommons/DavidJones”We strongly believe that a product like ours can change the way students learn all across the world. Today, with a wider bandwidth, we have started creating similar products for the international markets that further boost our reach as well as product portfolio.”While Bangalore-based TutorVista acquired Edurite in 2007, Pearson acquired a stake in TutorVista in 2009 and bought the entire stake in February 2013.
Korean Cultural Centre presents 2nd Pan India K-POP Contest, the festival invites all the K- POP lovers around India to join the global competition and celebration of Korean popular song and dance. K-POP is a part of celebrations of Indo-Korean 40th Diplomatic year. Finalists from the 13 countries will be invited to Korea to perform in the Grand Finale, which will be held in Gangwon, South Korea on 28 September. The event is going to be held on 17 August from 6 pm to 8:30 pm. Also Read – ‘Playing Jojo was emotionally exhausting’K-POP Contest provides a platform for all to prove their mettle in Korean singing and dancing. K-POP is a musical genre originally from South Korea that is characterised by a wide variety of audiovisual elements, the term is more often used in a narrower sense to describe a modern form of South Korean pop music covering mostly dance-pop, pop ballad, electronic, rock, hip-hop, R&B and the like.The jury members of the 2013 festivals are Kim Kum Pyoung, the Director of Korean Cultural Centre India; Sanjeev Bhargava, Aleksandra Michelska Singh, Dancer, Natya Nectar Dance Academy and Sangwon Donald Kwag, Marketing Head, Star CJ. Last year Paul 5 from Timarpur slums, a 7 member team were announced winners from India. Winning team from the semi-finals at New Delhi will get an all expenses paid trip to Korea to participate at the finals in Wonju. Wonju is the most populous city in Gangwon province, South Korea with rich historical and cultural significance. The festival has a lot more to offer to its audiences as well.
In an expression of faith in the assertion of Union Minister Pon Radhakrihnan that permission will be secured to hold bull taming sport ‘Jallikattu’ in Tamil Nadu, DMK on Friday postponed its proposed hunger strike over the issue.“I feel that the proposed hunger strike (to seek nod for Jallikattu) at Alanganallur (Madurai) on December 28 to be led by party treasurer M K Stalin can be postponed considering the letter of Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan (that permission would be obtained to hold the event),” Karunanidhi said in a release here. Also Read – Rain batters Kolkata, cripples normal lifeRadhakrishnan had said on Thursday, replying to Karunanidhi’s letter to him over the issue, “I am confident that we will be getting permission to hold Jallikattu on Pongal day based on the talks held for the past one month… Our efforts have the support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” Citing the assurance, the DMK chief also appealed to pro-Jallikattu groups who had sought his party’s support, “to accept the postponement of the protest by accepting the confidence expressed by Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan.” An annual affair in southern parts of rural Tamil Nadu, it has socio-economic and cultural dimensions to it.
SES has announced that it will launch its satellite broadband service, SES Broadband, in Ka-band in November.The new service will offer download speeds of up to 20Mbps and upload speeds of up to 2Mbps. It will be marketed via SES’ partners NordNet, Vivéole and Wibox to end-consumers in France.SES Broadband in Ka-band will be available pending the launch and beginning of operations of SES’ Astra 2F satellite. The satellite is currently scheduled for launch on September 21 and will be located at the orbital position 28.2 degrees East.”We are very pleased that the Ka-band ground infrastructure is now fully operational, with a new generation of end-user terminals from Gilat Satellite Technologies and Newtec soon to be available to our customers,” said Patrick Biewer, managing director of SES Broadband Services. “With Astra 2F and the subsequent launches of Astra 2E, Astra 5B and Astra 2G in 2013 and 2014, we will be able to further expand our satellite broadband service in Europe with the additional Ka-band capacity on our fleet.”
The effects of the economic crisis and the maturing of some markets is making life challenging for pay TV operators in central and eastern Europe, but there is still significant opportunity for growth. Stuart Thomson & Graham Pomphrey report.The pay TV market in central and eastern Europe is beginning to mature. While there remains significant room for growth by comparison with western Europe, the rate of growth achieved by operators in the region is beginning to flatten out, with competing providers being forced to search harder for new subscribers.There remains a huge amount of variation within the region. While the pay TV industry in Poland enjoys western European levels of penetration, pay TV in a number of markets remains significantly underdeveloped. Levels of ARPU, though generally lower than in western Europe, differ significantly between the various countries in the region.Higher-end subscribersIn Poland, the region’s most advanced pay TV market, a significant opportunity exists for premium services and HD content. Poland is notably strong in HD. TVN-backed DTH operator ‘n’ has been notably successful in capturing higher-end subscribers. Despite the relative maturity of the pay TV market in the country, ‘n’’s chief operating officer Christian Anting believes there is still room for growth. “We still expect subscriber growth over the next few years,” says Anting. He says that about three million Polish households will be affected by the country’s terrestrial switchover, scheduled for 2013, and that about a third of these could be attracted to DTH pay TV. “We think a big part of our growth could come from that,” he says. Another factor that could encourage take-up, he says, is the European Championship football tournament, set to take place in Poland and Ukraine next May.This event, he says, “traditionally triggers sales of TV screens”. With this in mind ‘n’ has teamed up with TV manufacturer Sony to launch a CI Plus CAM. The CI Plus offering, the nCAM, will support a pre-paid pay TV service. Sony will offer the nCAM as part of a package with the sale of flat-screen TVs in the country. Anting said that Sony was the first TV manufacturer to make such a commitment to CI Plus in Poland, but that deals with other manufacturers would follow. As the likely buyers of the screens will be consumers with significant disposable income, Anting believes that the CI Plus offering could attract a new class of high-end subscribers to the platform in the future. He says that the CI Plus pre-paid offering, which will include access to a package of 12 HD channels and about 50 thematic channels, will attract higher-end customers who could contribute to higher ARPU for the operator going forwards. The offering is ‘n’-branded, unlike ‘n’’s existing pre-paid offering, marketed under the TNK brand. ‘n’ launched an HD version of the TNK service at the end of last year.The launch of the nCAM is part of a wider drive by ‘n’ to attract new subscribers to its platform ahead of digital switchover. “We are satisfied with how sales of that have developed,” says Anting, who says that the new HD offering should have the longer-term effect of encouraging customers to migrate to the subscription offering. “We will definitely see migration from prepaid into post-paid. That’s one reason we launched TNK HD – because it runs on the same technology platform – the same set-top – as the postpaid offering,” he says. Because the device is a hybrid box that includes a digital-terrestrial tuner, customers will also be assured that they will be able to receive any future services on the terrestrial platform in addition to ‘n’’s service. Anting says that ‘n’’s big advantage over the terrestrial offering itself will be its focus on HD services (it has also begun offering 3D events).On the post-paid subscription side, another major initiative by ‘n’ is its launch of multi-play offerings in partnership with national telco TP in June. The pair have already collaborated in co-marketing broadband from TP with the TNK service, following their agreement at the end of last year. The next phase will see them launch full combined TV and broadband subscription offerings. According to Anting, the bundling of products with Poland’s leading telecom service provider will reduce churn and encourage customer loyalty.Anting believes that ‘n’ is well-placed to prosper in the crowded Polish pay TV market. “‘n’ clearly targets the upper segment of the market with premium positioning,” he says, complementing Polsat’s mass-market appeal. While Cyfra Plus also targets high-end consumers, he believes ‘n’ is in a stronger position. ‘n’’s recent growth profile has been impressive – the operator signed up 25,000 new customers in the first quarter. Cyfra Plus has also effectively lost its exclusive grip on Polish Elektralasa premier league football, with matches now also being available on Polsat and (through Eurosport) on ‘n’.Smaller operatorsDTH players in Poland have to a large extent focused on HD and premium services (with significant differences between ‘n’ and Cyfra Plus on side, which have targeted higher end subscribers, and Cyfrowy Polsat on the other, which has positioned itself as appealing to the mid-market segment). Fixed-line operators, on the other hand, are looking to on-demand services to differentiate their digital offerings and attract new subscribers or encourage analogue customers to upgrade to digital tiers.While on-demand services may seem an obvious way for fixed operators with two-way networks to offer something different, smaller players often have their work cut out to persuade content providers to supply content in order to enable them to launch VOD services to increase ARPU and attract subscribers. This can be particularly hard for operators with relatively small subscriber bases. Polish cable operator INEA launched a VOD service in December and has gained “a few thousand customers” according to Janusz Kosi´nski, president of the management board. While the operator currently offers over 350 movies on the platform, Kosi´nski admits adding content “is hard for small and medium operators because of the price of this content”. However, launching additional services is imperative, he says, in order at least to keep ARPU at a steady level. “But we hope these services could also increase it,” he adds.In terms of on-demand, INEA is also planning to launch a catch-up TV service. And Kosi´nski said it is exploring other value-adds like antivirus programmes, online back-up or additional telephony minutes. Kosi´nski hopes that this type of add-on service will enable the operator to increase RGUs and grow its digital penetration, rather than growing by acquiring smaller networks. “In Poland the consolidation of the industry is happening right now. But there are other options than overtaking smaller operators and competitors’ customers,” he says. “There are our own customers who can buy new services. For example INEA’s subscribers could choose new services thanks to our development last year, as we implemented a mobile internet service and VOD service. The growth will come from convincing the customers to buy new and value added services.” Another key area of development for INEA is the bundling of products with the aim of getting subscribers to take three, or even four services (it recently launched mobile internet). According to Kosi´nski, INEA’s customers are already showing a keen interest in multiple-services. “Customers more and more frequently decide to choose triple-play services for financial and practical reasons – they receive only one bill and one technical support,” he says “Almost 20% of our customers decided to choose triple-play and we wish to increase this segment also with mobile phones and internet.” “Other operators don’t have the premium content that we have. We still see growth from exclusive premium content such as sports.”Richard Breskovi´c, T-Hrvatski TelekomHigh-speed broadbandMulti-play is at the heart of Russian cable operator Akado’s strategy. This year the company plans to test DOCSIS 3.0 services in the Moscow market, according to Akado president Denis Lobanov. “By establishing DOCSIS 3.0 technology and upgrading the virtual network topologies we could provide ultra high-speed broadband services – up to 400Mbps – to our customers,” he says. “The DOCSIS 3.0 test zones will roll out in several Moscow districts, and then after getting results it will spread out thoughout the city at the end of the year.” The rollout of DOCSIS 3.0 will also, says Lubanov, enable Akado to develop its HDTV tier (and 3D services) without having an impact on internet services.In addition to high-speed broadband, Akado is investing in interactivity and in HD services. “We are investing in developing interactive TV services, which are the future of Russian broadcasting. Today the payback might seem small and risky but the interactive TV services have great potential for profitability in future,” says Lubanov. “We are rolling out digital TV using a platform that supports interactive services. Forecasting demand for interactive TV services in Russia in the next three years, we’re implementing it now for the future, developing and maintaining our leading market position.” On the HD side, the company saw a significant boost in viewing from its HD broadcasts of the 2010 Winter Olympics and World Cup.Lubanov says that the economic downturn has had relatively little impact on the company’s business, with a 19% growth in overall revenues in 2010 to RUB3.66 billion (€90 million) and growth in its EBITDA margin from 25.2% to 34.7%. “Today Akado keeps on developing its services through its successful marketing strategy, strong financial discipline and professional cost management and reduction. I believe we make the most attractive offer for clients focused mainly on the quality of customer care rather than technological superiority,” he says. “Broadband and digital TV services were still in high demand, while internet access has become a basic commodity these days and TV viewing is one of the Russians’ favourite pastimes.”Lubanov says that Akado aims to offer as much choice as possible to customers, presenting them with optional packages and pay-per-view services and allowing them to choose between analogue and digital reception. “To keep our leading position and create marketable products and services Akado focuses on meeting customer requirements. We transmit in both analogue and digital. But we try to enlighten and educate our audience about the advantages of digital TV and HDTV,” he says. “We developed a special programme for testing digital TV services and free viewing of digital channels for all our subscribers to motivate people to switch from analogue to digital TV broadcasting.” In order to support this, Akado offers a 13-strong package of HD channels, including National Geographic HD, Mezzo Live HD and Fashion TV HD as well as film and sports channels. Lubanov believes Akado is well-placed to hold its leading position in Moscow (where he says it has a 52% share in the digital TV market).Room for growthWhile DTH players are strong in Poland and Romania, and cable (in various shapes and sizes) is ubiquitous through much of the region, IPTV remains relatively underdeveloped with the exception of a few key markets. One of these is Croatia, where Deutsche Telekom-backed T-Hrvatski Telekom is the leading IPTV player on the market. Despite the company’s existing high penetration, Richard Breskovi´c, director of proposition management and strategy fixed department at T-Hrvatski Telekom, believes there is room for growth both in broadband and pay TV.Exclusive content rights are the key to maintaining the appeal of the TV service in Croatia, according to Breskovi´c. “MAXtv offers premium content and we still see growth from exclusive premium content such as sports,” he says, citing examples including the Spanish football league and Formula 1 motor-racing, where the content is distributed exclusively via T-Hrvatski Telekom’s platform. The operator’s current plans include the re-launch of its HD package with the addition of new content, and further differentiation will come from T-Hrvatski Telekom’s emphasis on interactivity, taking advantage of the capabilities of the Microsoft-based TV platform and its own network investment to deliver, for example, multiple streams to users’ homes. The operator has less room for manoeuvre when it comes to bundlinginternet and TV services. “We are regulated on the broadband and voice side and bundling has been a challenge,” says Breskovi´c. However, T-Hrvatski Telekom has managed to market dual and triple-play services, despite these restrictions. “The regulations are a challenge but we have managed to adapt,” he says.Breskovi´c also believes that the digitization of the Croatian terrestrial network could also encourage new subscribers to sign up to MAXtv (particularly in view of terrestrial reception problems in Istria and the Dalmatian coast, with interference from Italy affecting the country’s B and C multiplexes). The MAXtv set-tops for satellite reception are hybrid with DVB-T tuners to ensure that customers can receive any future services to be launched in the terrestrial network as well as T-Hrvatski Telekom’s own services.In order to further maximize its reach in a relatively small market, T-Hrvatski Telekom has launched a version of MAXtv via satellite, with the prime goal to provide TV service to the customers that already take services from the operator but are unable to access the IPTV service. “We want to reach customers in rural areas of Croatia and provide a service that’s got premium content. These are loyal customers for other services,” says Breskovi´c. For similar reasons, T-Hrvatski Telekom provides a separate, somewhat more stripped down IPTV service via its Iskon subsidiary. “The Iskon feature set is quite substantially different,” he says. “Iskon is one of the oldest internet providers in Croatia, with quite a loyal subscriber base.” The Iskon TV service was launched to provide a complete portfolio of services to this base, in order to secure its loyalty to the brand and prevent Iskon customers from being tempted by alternative TV offerings.A second goal of the MAXtv satellite platform, however, is to build a business that could be exported to markets outside Croatia. “The Croatian market is not the only one where we can exploit our platform,” says Breskovi´c. The plan would be to build a ‘white label’ offering where T-Hrvatski Telekom could provide the technical infrastructure (including encryption) that could then be used by content partners to reach adjacent markets in the region.Other future strategic priorities for T-Hrvatski Telekom include the build-out of a fibre infrastructure (progress towards which has been slowed down somewhat by regulatory restrictions), which would, among other things, enable it more easily to deliver multiple simultaneous video streams to each household. Breskovi´c also believes that there will be some consolidation to reduce fragmentation in the TV distribution market, with smaller players that may lack watertight rights to redistribute content being squeezed out.Pan-regional distributorConsolidation within individual territories has long been anticipated, but is only now beginning to happen in Romania (where Romtelecom has acquired rivals Boom TV and Akta) and has yet to occur in Poland. However mergers and acquisitions across national boundaries have also occurred. Liberty Global, with operations in five countries attracting a total of 4.1 million subscribers, has long been the premier pan-regional distributor in central and eastern Europe. Its strength in the region is likely to increase with the acquisition of Polish cable operator Aster from investment group Mid Europa Partners (itself a significant international player through its ownership of the SBB/Total TV and Telemach operations in the western Balkans and Invitel and Fibernet in Hungary). Once it passes regulatory hurdles, the Aster deal will be worth ?600 million, representing one of the biggest CEE equity exits of the past 12 months.Poland is one the most developed, and therefore competitive pay TV markets in central and eastern Europe, and the deal indicates that Liberty Global, which already operates under the UPC brand in Poland wants to take it on. For Mid Europa Partners partner Robert Knorr, the decision to sell Aster was down to normal investment cycles, rather than a response to pay TV market conditions. “On the contrary, we are solely committed to the region and are actively looking for investments including in the pay TV space,” he says. “We get into investments and stay with them for three-to-five years. Aster we were hitting the fifth year and it was the right time to exit.”Mid Europa itself is continuing to build a noticeable presence in the former Yugoslavian countries, where it operates under the SBB cable brand in Serbia (which in turn operates the Total TV DTH platform) and Telemach in Slovenia. Most recently, Mid Europa acquired three regional players in Bosnia, BH cable Net, Elob and KT Global, which it will combine with Telemach and SBB into a new Telemach-branded entity. It also has a presence in the Hungarian pay TV market where its fixed line telco Invitel recently acquired cable and pay TV operator Fibernet.According to Knorr, the economic crisis, which he said had a much greater affect on some markets than others, has in fact led to a slowing down of mergers and acquisitions in the region. Growth for Mid Europa has in any case tended to be organic rather than through major acquisitions: “The last 12 months have been more dynamic than the year before, but aside from Aster the rest of our deals have been about add-on acquisitions and boosting our existing presence to expand our footprint in the region.”From an investment point of view, there are some markets best avoided in the short- to mid-term, says Knorr pointing to Romania as a particularly difficult market to crack. “It has lots of operators and an incumbent that is very active in the market. Competition is very high,” he explains. Hungary is tough too. “There are some markets that seem easier than others,” says Knorr. In the next 18 months he predicts that some existing investors will decide to abandon some territories. “It will either provoke consolidation, which will create a more stable situation in those markets, or may prompt new investors to that market to attempt to drive different business models,” he says.Investing in DTH operators has proved riskier than for cable. According to Knorr, CEE DTH operators have in general been hit harder by recent economic conditions: “We have been doing very well with DTH but there have been some sad stories. Some people started DTH platforms, invested heavily in them and when the crisis hit they were left over-exposed. They were paying a lot of money for quality content but their ARPU or subscriber base went down. We would not shy away from looking at DTH but it’s a riskier business model than cable.” Knorr says that consumers are starting to show a preference for taking multiple services from operators, which means bundling DTH with fixed line services is a safer bet than offering TV services alone. “You are better off entering commercial agreements with people who own fixed line services with whom you can offer DTH as a video service to prevent them from putting video over their network,” he says.