Skylink is undoubtedly one of big success stories of satellite broadcasting in Central and Eastern Europe.
Since its re-launch as a pre-pay platform serving the Czech Republic and Slovakia, it has, in the space of less than two years, seen its customer total grow to a million. What is more, it has now become the leading provider of DTH services in both countries, having eclipsed not only UPC Direct and Digi but also its closest rival, CS Link.
There is no simple explanation as to how or why this has happened. Though a relatively new service, Skylink in fact traces its roots back much further. In Slovakia, where the name Skylink originated, a service named Slovak Link, which was part of the national transmission company – now known as Towercom – began to distribute radio and TV services for several clients in the 1990s. In due course, it also began to offer pay-TV channels.
Meanwhile in the Czech Republic, a sister service named Czech Link was set up by UPC and the Czech Digital Group (CDG), also in the late 1990s. It, too, distributed radio and TV services via satellite for clients and in due course also began to offer pay-TV channels.
However, it underwent more changes in ownership than its Slovak counterpart and eventually came under the control of TradeTec, a company formerly known as Trade and Technology (T&T) that used to distribute smart cards for the service.
To complicate matters still further, some T&T managers left the company to form another smart card supplier (Gital), which in due course went on, through a successor company named Media Vision, to create CS Link.
Skylink’s joint owners Towercom and TradeTec have placed huge emphasis on improving its channel offer, which is more or less identical in the two countries (some Czech stations have at times been withdrawn and then reinstated in Slovakia and vice-versa). It already includes 10 HD services and several more are likely to be added in the near future.
Skylink and indeed CS Link, which probably now has in the region of 500,000 active cards in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are undoubtedly playing increasingly important roles in the two countries’ TV industries as they move to digitisation. Both, though especially Skylink, are set to remain key players for the foreseeable future.