Another month, another season, another new satellite platform in Central and Eastern Europe.
While the launch of Vivacom TV should come as no surprise – its operator, the incumbent telco, has been known to be planning a DTH service for some time – it is nevertheless still an important development. Bulgaria may have ‘kicked off’ the surge in satellite broadcasting in the CEE in late 2003/early with the launch of two operations (Bulsatcom and ITV Partner) in quick succession, but it has undoubtedly since fallen behind most other countries. Indeed, when Mid Europa Partners’ Total TV acquired ITV Partner late last year, there were at most 500,000 subscribers to the two Bulgarian DTH platforms – hardly a good return on nearly six years of activity.
Vivacom TV should certainly liven things up in the Bulgarian market, with its operator Vivacom (previously known as the Bulgarian Telecom Company) hoping it will perform as well if not better than DTH run by incumbent telcos in other CEE markets. These include services in Poland, Hungary and Romania, with the latter (Romtelecom’s Dolce) undoubtedly the star performer.
However, there is an interesting twist also developing in Bulgaria, with Bulsatcom understood to be preparing to launch a service in neighbouring Serbia. This would compete directly with both Total TV and Romanian-owned RCS/RDS, both of which are strong regional players.
Yet it’s not all good news for the DTH market in CEE. Although platform closures have until now been extremely rare – the only one that springs to mind is the ill-fated service operated by the Polish public broadcaster TVP – quite a few have run into difficulties in the last few years.
The latest to do so is Ukraine’s Poverkhnost Plus, which has recently seen an ownership change and is now reported to have significant debts and a serious piracy problem. It has to be hoped the company can overcome these difficulties, as the Ukrainian DTH market is still relative young and needs competition to develop.