UPC Direct’s switch to the one degree West position marks an important milestone for Telenor Satellite Broadcasting (TSBc) in its aim to become a leading player in CEE.
It also provides something of a boost for the Liberty Global-owned DTH platform, which has in recent months seen its subscriber figures stagnate.
Despite having had a presence in CEE for quite some time, TSBc has until now been to some degree overshadowed by Eutelsat and SES Astra, both of which are long-established and dominant players throughout the region.
However, the one degree West position is proving to be increasingly popular among broadcasters and already serves over 2 million DTH households in Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Moldova. What is more, TSBc’s clients include Focus Sat, UPC Direct’s Romanian sister service.
Thor 5, which is operational, and Thor 6, expected to launch in Q4 this year, will provide TSBc with significant additional capacity – 36 transponders in the latter’s case, of which 20 will be allocated to CEE.
UPC Direct will initially use a total of seven transponders on the two satellites, and according to Gene Musselman, president and COO of UPC Broadband, they will allow the platform to offer “additional local content, as well as regional qualitative channels.”
The deal is a statement of intent by UPC, demonstrating that the company remains committed to its DTH operations in CEE despite their recent lack of progress.
Indeed, while UPC’s cable operations in the region go from strength to strength – digital take-up has been particularly pronounced in the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland – UPC Direct has been overshadowed in its three markets, initially by Digi TV (interestingly, also employing one degree West) and now also Sky Link (the Astra-delivered platform in the Czech Republic and Slovakia).
Neither has Focus Sat, though already using one degree West, set the Romanian DTH market on fire. Despite steadily growing its subscriber base, it remains a long way behind both Digi TV and Romtelecom’s Dolce TV.
While the UPC Direct switch to one degree West is not a huge blow to TSBc’s competitors, it puts down an important marker and considerably enhances the Norwegian satellite operator’s standing in the CEE region.