Unlike Central and Eastern Europe’s larger and more ‘sexy’ markets, Bulgaria has never really found itself in the limelight. However, following a relatively uneventful first decade as a newly democratic nation, the last few years have certainly notched up their fair share of milestones.
The most recent, only earlier this week, was an announcement that a digitalisation plan would be in place within a month and digital TV licence awards made sometime in the summer. Not a moment too soon, one might argue, given the protracted nature of the transition process in Bulgaria: a DTT licence covering Sofia was awarded to the incumbent BTC in 2001 but never utilised, and six years on there is still no DTT platform in operation.
Elsewhere, however, things have not stood still. The cable industry, for instance, is seeing increasing consolidation and has come to be dominated by CableTel, an ambitious company that has in recent months also established a presence in both Albania and Macedonia. The DTH sector is meanwhile served by two platforms – ITV Partner and Bulsatcom – and may at some time in the future be joined, and then most certainly radically shaken up, by a third operated by Romania’s Digi TV.
IPTV, on the other hand, is developing in an unusual way, with the market being driven by a Russian-backed alternative telco named Vestitel rather than BTC, which has yet to launch a service. However, the incumbent certainly has plans to enter the sector, perhaps even sometime this year, and is extremely well placed given its virtual monopoly status in the provision of fixed-line services.
The initial impetus for all these developments was arguably provided by the terrestrial sector, and in particular the national commercial stations bTV and Nova TV, backed by News Corp. and the Greek Antenna Group respectively. Both will continue to play an important role both in the run-up to, and indeed following, analogue switch off in 2012.