Are the cable and satellite industries in Central and Eastern Europe moving in different directions?
Quite clearly the answer is no, with competition between platforms stronger than ever as they seek to offer their subscribers an ever improving array of services. However, the number of DTH operations across the region continues to grow, while the cable industry sees consolidation as both necessary and inevitable.
This week’s PIKE conference in the Baltic town of Sopot, Poland, saw ITI Neovision’s Tomasz Berezowski make the surprise prediction that the country, which already has five DTH platforms, could support two more. Just as surprisingly, Dominik Libicki, the head of the market leader Cyfrowy Polsat, chose to remain non-committal as to how many platforms Poland may eventually end up with.
In the meantime, it was reported by Broadband TV News that the Croatian incumbent telco T-HT plans to launch its own DTH platform, bringing the total number operating n the country to three. At the same time, Vodafone is expected to launch a satellite-delivered service in the Czech Republic on the back of Skylink’s infrastructure.
Meanwhile in the cable market, consolidation is about to take off in a big way in Poland, with Aster likely to be sold, perhaps before the end of the year. Although there are several possible buyers, UPC Polska, the market leader, is arguably the favourite.
While discussion amongst Polish panellists about the Aster deal was kept to a minimum at the PIKE conference, the wider issue of cable consolidation, both in Poland and other markets, was addressed at some length by an ‘outside’ and therefore arguably objective speaker. As someone directly involved in making deals happen, Guy Hayward Cole from Bank of America Merrill Lynch was well qualified to assess the current state of play and said that there are “no reasons for the market to consolidate if everyone makes good returns.” While concluding that consolidation in the Polish market will happen, he also said it would be through choice rather than being forced.
Hayward Cole went on to cite the UK, where pay-TV subscribers can effectively chose between only two providers, namely Sky (DTH) and Virgin Media (cable). and how unfavourably this compared to Poland.
This choice nevertheless has its downsides for the Polish cable industry, making the move to consolidation necessary. Interestingly, Andrzej Rogowski, the president of Multimedia Polska, identified the “biggest catalyst” for change as now being a slowdown in growth.