First subscription television channel

On 2 April 1992, the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) launched the first subscription television channel, NewsVision, in Singapore through its subsidiary, Singapore CableVision. The channel was a 24-hour news service that showed mainly news from the United States’ Cable News Network (CNN), but also included feeds from the UK-based Independent Television News and delayed telecasts of SBC’s 9 pm news.

On 21 March 1991, then Acting Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo announced plans to have more television channels, mainly pay channels charged on a subscription basis.  The purpose was to provide more choices for the masses and meet the needs of specific segments of the community.1 Two months later on 22 May 1991, SBC announced plans to offer three new subscription channels by mid-1992.The channels were NewsVision, an all-news channel; MovieVision, a movie channel; and VarietyVision, a sports and general entertainment channel. All three channels would be transmitted via ultra-high frequency (UHF).3

SBC marked the occasion by signing two contracts worth S$6.1 million with Sumitomo Corporation and Infotel Technologies to supply transmitting, microwave and programme input equipment for the new subscription television. SBC committed an initial investment of up to S$20 million to purchase hardware such as transmission equipment and satellite dishes to receive overseas signals. It also signed an agreement with CNN to broadcast items for NewsVision.4

On 10 September 1991, SBC announced that it had formed a subsidiary, Singapore CableVision (SCV), to manage the subscription service.SBC had a 35 percent stake in SCV, while the remaining 65 percent was held by Singapore International Media, a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings.6

SBC’s first subscription television channel went on air on 2 April 1992.7 The 24-hour NewsVision broadcast primarily news from CNN, but also featured news from Independent Television News and delayed telecasts of SBC’s 9 pm news.Its initial target audience were companies in the financial sector, hotels as well as people who lived in landed property and newer condominiums.NewsVision marked the first time that the Singapore government permitted public access to a foreign news network on television, and thus broke SBC’s monopoly on relaying news on television.10

The two other subscription channels, MovieVision and VarietyVision, were made available from 1 June 1992. MovieVision broadcast for 12 hours daily, and featured 30 movies each month from Time Warner’s subsidiary, Home Box Office Asia. VarietyVision, on the other hand, featured Mandarin drama, cartoons and sports programmes.11 At the time of the channels’ launch, only 1,900 public housing blocks out of the 7,000 built after 1986 would be equipped to receive UHF and could subscribe to all three channels by mid-July. The remaining 5,100 flats required rewiring works to upgrade their antenna systems to receive UHF before subscription was possible, and upgrading all of them would take up to three years.12

The subscription fees were S$29.95 per month each for NewsVision and VarietyVision, and S$34.95 for MovieVision. Discounted rates were given for subscription of two or more channels. The rates were reportedly comparable to those of other countries such as Thailand and New Zealand.13 To receive the signals, subscribers were required to install an UHF antenna that cost between S$250 and S$500.14 Subscribers also had to install decoders in their television sets to receive and translate the signal into picture and sound. The equipment was provided free with a three-channel subscription, but there was an installation fee of S$50.15 The subscription channels were offered by SCV to hotels at a rate of 50 cents per day for each room the service was relayed.16 Besides hotels, the subscription fees for commercial subscribers like banks and companies were also set at a higher rate of $400 per month for the first decoder and $250 per month for subsequent decoders.17

Thirty thousand subscribers were expected to sign up for the service initially.18 By May 1992, NewsVision had gained 1,500 subscribers.19 In the following year, more than half of hotels in Singapore had subscribed to SCV.20 By 1994, four percent of local households was estimated to have subscribed to SCV.21

In December 1993, George Yeo announced plans to install optic fibres in all homes in Singapore by 1998 as part of Singapore’s vision of becoming an “intelligent city”. The cable network would replace the existing antenna system used by televisions and the three UHF channels.22 In 1994, the ownership of SCV changed hands, with three new partners joining SCV to develop Singapore’s fibre optic cable infrastructure and cable television.23 SCV rolled out its subscription cable television service on 23 June 1995 in Tampines, providing more than 25 channels, including news channels like CNN, British Broadcasting Corporation International and Asia Business News. With the progressive launch of cable television islandwide, access to the three UHF channels were gradually removed once estates became cable-ready.24 Of the three UHF channels, only VarietyVision remained in SCV’s cable offerings during its launch of a new suite of channels in 1995.25 In 2002, SCV merged with telecommunications company StarHub and was renamed StarHub Cable Vision.26

Nureza Ahmad & Goh Lee Kim

1. Cherian George, “Coming Soon: More TV Channels,” Straits Times, 22 March 1991, 1; Chitra Rajaram, “More TV Channels for Singaporeans in the Near Future,” Business Times, 22 March 1991, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Three New Subscription TV Channels By Next Year,” Straits Times, 23 May 1991, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Janice Foo, “Will Pay TV Push Out the Tape?” Straits Times, 26 April 1992. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
4. “Three New Subscription TV Channels”; Magdalene Phang, “SBC to Launch Subscription TV By April 1992,” Business Times, 10 September 1991, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Phang, “SBC to Launch Subscription TV.”  
6. “Singapore’s First Subscription TV Channel Goes on the Air Tomorrow,” Business Times, 1 April 1992, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Foo, “Will Pay TV Push Out the Tape?”
8. “Singapore’s First Subscription TV Channel.”
9. Cherian George, “Mandarin Channel on Pay-TV?New Paper, 19 February 1992, 9; “News Channel on Pay TV Available from Tomorrow,” Straits Times, 1 April 1992, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Cherian George, “News Time Is Now Show Time,” Straits Times, 22 December 1999, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Singapore’s First Subscription TV Channel.”
12. “News Channel on Pay TV Available from Tomorrow.”
13. June Kong, “Nuts and Bolts of Cable TV,” New Paper, 1 April 1992, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Singapore’s First Subscription TV Channel.”
15. Foo, “Will Pay TV Push Out the Tape?”; “Singapore’s First Subscription TV Channel.”
16. “Singapore’s First Subscription TV Channel.”
17. “Pay TV for Commercial Subscribers Costs Very Much More,” Straits Times, 6 April 1992, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Phang, “SBC to Launch Subscription TV.”  
19. “Two New Leisure Channels Launched on Pay TV,” Straits Times, 14 May 1992, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “SCV Captures 50pc of Hotels,” Business Times, 21 May 1993, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “S’pore Cable Vision in 4pc of Households,” Business Times, 3 June 1994, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “Dozen Cable Channels in about Year’s Time,” Straits Times, 24 December 1993, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “3 New Partners for $500 Million Cable TV Project,” Straits Times, 18 July 1994, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Dave Ang, “Cable TV for Tampines,” New Paper, 7 June 1995, 3; Michelle Low, “Tampines Begins Countdown to Cable Television By June Next Year,” Business Times, 29 November 1994, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Ang, “Cable TV for Tampines”; Catherine Ong, “SCV Sets Rates at $29.95 a Month for Basic Package,” Business Times, 8 June 1995, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Samuel Lee, “It Is Still SCV to Subscribers,” Straits Times, 7 October 2002, 4. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at May 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading material on the topic.



1965-1970 Nation building
Cable television--Singapore