Pay-television operators could soon be threatened by the introduction of straight-to-PC services The roll-out of internet television services by Asian telecoms operators is boosting a new generation of firms that supply niche and mainstream content for the platform. But while the success of operators such as PCCW - 554,000 subscribers and counting - has the content providers drooling for now, the versatility of internet protocol for delivering content could see content providers bypassing pay-television services altogether in favour of straight-to-desktop services as iTunes, YouTube and digital device initiatives such as Intel's Viiv, catch on. Yes TV (Hong Kong) is one company with its feet in both camps. The subsidiary of Britain's Yes Television surrendered its pay-TV licence in 2004, citing expensive access charges to PCCW's network, but has reinvented itself as a content provider through its Goal TV football channel, an amalgamation of content from the TV channels of English Premier League clubs Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, as well as live football from European leagues. According to Yes TV chairman and chief executive Thomas Kressner, the number of viewers watching the channel recently exceeded 20 million in Thailand, China, Singapore and Hong Kong, among other places. That figure looks set to increase once TVB Pay Vision, which carries Goal TV, begins showing on PCCW's Now Broadband service. 'Launching over Now Broadband will be a big deal for us,' Mr Kressner said. 'Most operators buy our channel and offer it as part of the basic package, so a deal with Now [Broadband] will instantly increase our viewers.' But just as significant is how operators such as Singapore's SingTel are using Goal TV to lure new broadband subscribers by making the channel available directly to PC - bypassing the pay-television set-top box. For now, Yes TV is playing down any potential conflict between PC viewing and pay television, arguing that viewers will prefer televisions over desktops for the foreseeable future. For telecoms operators, however, the debate is arguably more pressing than for content providers, who can secure viewers' subscription fees regardless of the delivery platform. Video-on-demand company Anytime has both direct-to-PC and pay-TV services available to Chunghwa Telecom subscribers in Taiwan. Anytime chief executive Craig Zimbulis said broadband pay television had reached an inflexion point in Asia, thanks to the falling cost of set-top boxes and the inherent advantage of internet protocol for delivering interactive services that could increase an operator's average revenue per user. The company has secured distribution deals from Sony, Warner, Fox and Universal to deliver on-demand movies up to 90 days ahead of their release on to pay-television channels such as HBO, and the firm is looking to add television shows and local language content such as Korean dramas and Bollywood to its platform. 'Over time, video on demand will prove itself to reduce churn,' Mr Zimbulis said. 'One thing we have learnt is that viewers grow accustomed to on-demand services and their usage increases as the amount of available content increases. We'll continue to acquire more and more content - the only limitation is the capacity of our [telecoms] partners to carry it.' Therein lies the rub. Though the pay-television platform provides companies such as Yes TV and Anytime the greatest number of viewers and, arguably, the greatest revenue, telecoms operators are also free to pick and choose the channels they offer. Just as Anytime itself faces competition from iTunes and other internet-based services, so operators will have to find a way to ensure subscribers to their broadband networks also remain subscribers to their expensively acquired content. 'We do see television as the main focus of entertainment in the house, but more and more the PC is growing as an entertainment gateway through the use of iTunes and BitTorrent, and people are getting used to buying things over the internet,' said Anytime vice-president for marketing and communications Peter Lorimer. Mr Zimbulis said: 'A bigger trend may be the migration from internet to television via the Xbox 360 and Intel's Viiv, with home-networking capabilities, that allow people to get on-demand movies and content from us without going through the network operator.'