A brief visit to the Slovak capital has left me in no doubt as to the biggest issue now facing the country’s TV industry.
Carriage fees. Or more specifically, the decision by Markiza and Joj, the two leading commercial broadcasters, to start charging operators for the distribution of their channels. Needless to say, this has proved to be unpopular and been accompanied by Markiza no longer offering its channels as FTA services. Indeed, for terrestrial viewers they can now only be watched in the pay package of the DTT platform Plustelka.
Joj, on the other hand, is still committed contractually to distributing its channels terrestrially for quite some time. Not surprisingly, pay-TV operators are asking why they (and ultimately their customers) should now be charged for channels that can be received elsewhere for free.
While I understand that Markiza has reached agreements with most pay-TV operators, including the likes of Skylink and UPC, the same cannot be said about Joj. Interestingly, Satro, one of the largest cable operators in Slovakia – though admittedly still only a fraction of the size of UPC, the market leader – has taken the step of introducing a new programme package containing Markiza and Joj channels.
Ultimately, most pay-TV operators will have to raise their subscription fees in order to make up the money they will lose in paying for the distribution of channels that were previously free. This could ultimately drive smaller operators – of which there are still many in Slovakia – out of business and speed up market consolidation.
Two other important issues were also drawn to my attention: the futures of Markiza and the public broadcaster RTVS. Though unrelated, they are extremely important to the market as a whole.
Following CME’s recent sale of its operations in Croatia and Slovenia, questions are almost inevitably being asked about what plans it now has for Markiza and its sister broadcasters in the Czech Republic (Nova), Romania (Pro TV) and Bulgaria (bTV). Will it sell any or all of them?
Or does it plan to consolidate Markiza and Nova, at least to some degree, very much like Liberty Global’s UPC recently did with its operations in the two countries? My feeling is that things are hard to predict and we could be in for some more surprises in the near future.
Surprises are something we should perhaps not expect at RTVS, rather people’s worst fears coming true or things working out better than might have been expected. Next week we will see Jaroslav Reznik assume the role of director general, having been elected by members of parliament just a few weeks ago. Slovakia’s parliament has a different composition since last year’s general election and there are concerns he could move RTVS away from its public service remit and place it more under the control of the government. Time will tell.
Overall, I was left with the impression that this otherwise relatively quiet market is heading for some major changes in the near future, some progressive and others less so.