Chris Dziadul looks at developments in Hungarian cable
The news that Hungary has finally lifted an unusual rule that placed limits on how many subscribers cable operators can serve must surely be welcome.
Back in the 1990s the country placed itself in a difficult position by imposing a frequency moratorium. This effectively put back the introduction of national commercial broadcasting until the second half of the decade, by which time it was already well developed in almost all other large markets in CEE.
One unexpected consequence of this ‘freeze’ was that it allowed the cable industry to flourish and set in train the launch of numerous thematic channels – a process that continues to this day. It was probably also no accident that HBO chose Hungary as the first market outside the US in which to establish a presence during this period.
Although Hungary’s cable industry is today dominated by only a handful of players – UPC and T-Kábel, the market leaders, probably account for around 50% of subscribers – it has yet to experience the same degree of consolidation seen in other parts of the region. Indeed, it is by some accounts also served by around 400 small, community or municipally owned operators.
Perhaps surprisingly, a significant number of these operators have already introduced such additional services as broadband Internet access and telephony. Triple play is in fact now increasingly commonplace in the Hungarian cable market as a whole.
However, the rollout of digital TV services has been a much more convoluted affair, and as of last month they were only apparently offered by three cable operators – one of which was T-Kábel – in the entire country.
Now that the ‘one-third’ rule has been lifted, we can expect far-reaching changes in the months to come. Consolidation will certainly get under way in earnest, and new services such as VOD and HD will start to appear.
The wise money is on Hungary’s cable industry catching up in double-quick time with those in other relatively developed CEE markets.