Chris Dziadul looks at developments in Latvia.
The news that News Corp. has acquired two of Latvia’s leading commercial TV stations should come as no surprise to those who follow developments in the Baltic country’s broadcasting industry.
Despite its small size, Latvia has the fastest expanding economy in the EU, the 10.7% rise in GDP it posted in Q1 2007 being the eighth straight quarter with a growth rate in excess of 10%. This is reflected in its buoyant advertising market, which according to figures produced by TNS Latvia was worth €108.2 million in 2006, or 0.67% of GDP.
Although News Corp. was initially reluctant to enter the TV market in Central and Eastern Europe, it arguably turned a corner with the launch of bTV, now Bulgaria’s most successful broadcaster. It is now also present in the lucrative Polish market, having acquired a minority stake in TV Puls this time last year.
While Latvia is a much smaller proposition, LNT, one of News Corp.’s new acquisitions, is the country’s leading broadcaster and claimed a national audience share of 20.1% in April 2007. In comparison, its closest rival TV3, which is owned by Sweden’s Modern Times Group (MTG), had 17.8% and the public broadcaster’s two channels LTV1 and LTV7 11.3% and 3.9% respectively. TV5 Riga, News Corp’s other buy, meanwhile accounted for 2.2% of viewers.
While News Corp’s. entry into Latvia will undoubtedly shake up the terrestrial TV sector, important developments are also taking place elsewhere in the marketplace. The incumbent telco Lattelecom, for instance, recently launched what is probably the most technologically advanced IPTV platform in Central and Eastern Europe. Employing MPEG-4 compression, it is expected to introduce VOD this month and will soon also offer HD services.
Latvia is clearly a market on the move and one to keep a close eye on in the months to come.