The consolidation of Liberty Global’s DTH operations in Central and Eastern Europe is long overdue. Serving Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (in the case of UPC Direct) and Romania (Focus Sat), they have found themselves under growing pressure from competitors and – in some instances – even lost subscribers.
Indeed, the latest results published by Liberty Global show that take-up of UPC Direct in the Czech Republic as of the end of last year was, at 104,100, 3,500 lower than only three months earlier. In Hungary and Slovakia, it grew by a modest 3,100 and 1,400 to 186,000 and 32,500 respectively over the same period, while Romania’s Focus Sat gained 19,400 customers to reach 181,600.
The real worry for Liberty’s UPC Broadband has undoubtedly been the long-term performance of these operations. It seems incredible that UPC Direct, which made its debut in Q4 2000, has in just under a decade secured so few subscribers in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In truth, it effectively had a ‘free run’ in all three markets for around half that time, following which competition, first in the shape of Digi and subsequently a number of both new (T-Sat in Hungary) and re-vamped (Sky Link and CS Link in the Czech Republic/Slovakia) platforms really started to bite.
While Focus Sat has done better in what is an extremely tough market, it, too, has been left far behind by both the most successful Romanian platform (Digi) and closest rival (Romtelecom’s Dolce).
By consolidating UPC Direct and Focus Sat into a single operation Liberty Global will be able to significantly improve its DTH offer by, for instance, the provision of HD services. It can be argued that during the last couple of years the company has been largely focused on its cable operations, which, it has to be said, were starting to fall behind their competitors. This is now no longer the case, with digital TV, HDTV, PVR and ultra-fast internet access now commonplace in all Liberty’s CEE markets.
A similar push with Liberty’s DTH operations should help them compete more effectively with the likes of Digi, Sky Link and a host of other rivals.