Can the switch to one degree West turn round UPC’s satellite TV fortunes in Central and Eastern Europe?
First quarter results just published by Liberty Global make sober reading, with UPC Direct posting lower subscriber figures in all its three markets (Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) than three months earlier and Romania’s Focus Sat showing only modest growth.
Indeed, the Czech operation saw its take-up fall below the symbolic figure of 100,000, down by 4,700 to 99,400, while those in Hungary and Slovakia were down by 2,500 and 1,500 respectively, to 183,500 and 31,000. Focus Sat meanwhile rose by only 1,600 to 182,600.
Competition in the DTH sector is particularly intense in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with the pre-pay platforms Skylink and CS Link having established themselves as leading players in both markets. The Romanian market is meanwhile dominated by RCS/RCD’s Digi TV and Romtelecom’s Dolce, with Focus Sat a minor player and the futures of at least one of the two other platforms in some doubt.
The one degree West switch, coupled with the centralisation of Liberty Global’s satellite operations in Luxembourg, will undoubtedly improve the fortunes of both UPC Direct and Focus Sat. To what degree, however, is only likely to become apparent from the second half of this year.
One of the battlegrounds between UPC Direct/Focus Sat and their competitors is likely to be in the provision of HD channels, and UPC Direct added more to its offer at the beginning of this month.
Meanwhile in the cable sector, Liberty Global can be cheered by the fact that the take-up of digital services is now growing steadily in all its markets, with the combined total of subscribers standing at 1,150,700 as of the end of the first quarter.
However, on balance it is losing cable TV customers: in Romania, for instance, it lost three times as many analogue customers (46,500) as gained digital ones (14,600) in the first quarter.
Strong growth was seen in the take-up of internet and telephony services in the first quarter, though especially in Poland and the Czech Republic.