By Leah Hochbaum

Satellite has long been the carrier of choice for niche channels, which are seeking the biggest possible audiences they can get. But the introduction of the IPTV platform, which for channel providers is simply cheaper, may soon render satellite delivery obsolete.

“International channels exist as a result of satellite [technologies],” said Aldo Di Felice, president of Toronto-based TLN Television (Telelatino Network), Canada’s only national Hispanic and national Italian broadcaster. TLN chose satellite for its channels because “satellite allowed us to become available in parts of the country that were without cable,” he said. “It let us blanket the country with our coverage. It’s one-stop shopping. With a satellite, you can reach everybody in the country. With cable, it’s system by system.”

But while he concedes that his business owes a debt of gratitude to satellite, Di Felice also believes that IPTV is the way of the future. “Satellite is being taken over by IPTV,” he said resolutely, citing the expensive satellite fees that channel providers are tired of shelling out as a major reason for the shift. Satellite costs are dropping as a result of the new competition, but many broadcasters would love nothing more than to do away with the nuisance of satellite fees altogether.

But it’s not just about the money. “IPTV platforms are popping up like wild mushrooms,” said Slava Levin, president and CEO of Toronto-based Ethnic Channels Group, a provider of non-English-language digital TV channels to Canada’s multicultural population. “The universe is changing. In the next 10 years, satellite will go away and IPTV will probably be the new form of distribution for ethnic content.”

Elie Kawkabani, chairman of the board of Ethnic Broadcasters of America opined that while the satellite industry is facing many challenges, “growth is going to continue. Perhaps not at the same rate as the past few years, but this is not a fly-by-night operation — it will continue.”

Regardless, he believes that IPTV “is going to be the future of our industry. It’s not yet clear how it will happen, but it will happen. It’s a cheaper way to bring a lot of channels to viewers at once.”

Kakabani feels that the satellite industry should be gearing up to respond with its own plan for growth or “they’ll get hurt,” he said. “Satellite operators in general are reactive to market forces, but they must take steps to offer more value and choices to their audience. Because if they don’t respond to consumer needs,” there won’t be any more consumers to respond to.

Unlike many TV execs, Jon Helmrich, founder and president of global programming distributor IBC, isn’t yet sure what to believe. So he’s sticking with what he knows. “Right now, the most solid business model with a long-term revenue-producing stream is still a satellite-delivered TV network,” he said.