The acquisition of a 50% stake in the Russian DTH platform Raduga TV by MTG could prove to be one of the most inspired deals of the year.
The Swedish company is of course no stranger to Russia, having been present in the market for a number of years. At present it has a 39.4% stake in CTC Media, whose interests include the national commercial network CTC and thematic channel Domashny.
This will nevertheless be MTG’s first foray into the country’s highly competitive DTH market, served by no fewer than five platforms. The experience will undoubtedly be quite different to the one it has had to date in the neighbouring Baltic Republics and Ukraine.
Figures published by the company last week showed that it ended 2009 with 216,000 premium DTH subscribers in the latter, or 9,000 more than three months earlier. Although MTG does not separate out the two markets in its results, it conceded that most of the growth in Q4 had taken place in Ukraine and the position in the Baltic Republics had stabilized. This confirms New Television Insider’s understanding that the recently launched Viasat Ukraine is currently driving growth in the country’s embryonic DTH market, while the Baltic Republics, and their TV industries, were extremely hard hit by the global economic crisis last year.
Russia, however, is an altogether different kettle of fish. Prior to last week’s deal, precious little was known about Raduga TV save for a few basic facts such as its ownership and the satellite, ABS1 – 75 degrees East, it employs. MTG fortunately provided some more details in its announcement, including such details as its active subscriber total (70,000 as of the end of last December), current channel offer (over 50) and coverage (over 90% of the Russian Federation).
Raduga TV is a relative newcomer to the Russian DTH marketplace, having only made its debut in February 2009. It will be MTG’s task to transform it into one of the bigger players, which will not be beyond the level of possibility, given the company’s already extensive experience in operating successful DTH services in Scandinavia, Baltic Republics and Ukraine.
Even so, it will not be easy. Russia’s DTH market is the longest established in the CEE region, with NTV-Plus having made its debut as far back as the mid-1990s. It is also the largest, due in no small part to Tricolor TV, currently the fastest growing DTH operation in Europe.
Last September saw NTV-Plus and Tricolor TV effectively come under the same ownership, when Gazprom-Media Holding took a controlling stake in National Satellite Company, Tricolor TV’s operator. At that time, the two platforms had a combined total of over 6 million subscribers, though almost half a year later the figure will probably be closer to 7 million.
The deal marked the first real consolidation in the Russian DTH market, but has not resulted in a merger of the two platforms. Nor may it do for some time yet, as they cater for quite distinct audiences and both (though especially NTV-Plus) have very strong brand names.
The other DTH platforms currently serving the Russian market are Orion Express and Platforma HD, neither of which has made the same impact as NTV-Plus and Tricolor TV. Further consolidation, especially among the smaller platforms, now looks a distinct possibility.
For MTG, however, the most important thing at this stage is that it has gained a small though important foothold in the Russian DTH market. Its subscriber figures countries in the country will almost certainly start to grow and may soon exceed the combined ones for the Baltic Republics and Ukraine.