2008 will go down as a generally positive year for the TV industry in CEE.
The take-up of digital TV services grew significantly, thanks in no small part to the growing number of DTH platforms serving the region.
Hungary alone gained two (Hello HD and T-Home Sat), as did Poland (TNK and TPSA’s Orange), while Russia (Platforma HD) and Albania (Tring) both added to their totals.
What is more, the only real consolidation was in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where two existing services already with an ownership link joined forces to create Skylink.
While DTH distribution of HD channels is nothing new – Poland’s n was the first in CEE to offer services in the format in October 2006, followed by Russia’s NTV-Plus in April 2007 – this year we began to see the appearance of DTH platforms specializing in such channels.
Furthermore, the pre-pay DTH model is becoming increasingly popular, and indeed successful. Skylink, for instance, will end the year with over 500,000 customers, while TNK could have 200,000+, given its growing popularity not only in Poland but also amongst Poles living in other parts of Europe.
And yet the real success stories in the DTH sector in 2008 were undoubtedly Poland’s Cyfrowy Polsat and Romania’s Dolce, which both acquired many new subscribers despite facing strong competition.
2008 will also be remembered as the year UPC finally rolled out digital cable services in Hungary and Poland, its two leading regional markets.
Although they still have some ground to make up on their competitors, the one in the Czech Republic, launched in 2007, is doing exceptionally well and should end this year with more subscribers than its analogue equivalent.
Cable acquisitions have meanwhile been thin on the ground this year, with one particular deal – the merger of CableTel and Eurocom Cable in Bulgaria – apparently being called off due to funding issues. With the global financial crisis deepening, the lack of activity looks set to continue in 2009.
Although no country in CEE has yet completed the transition to digital broadcasting, progress of sorts was made this year in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Russia, to name but three.
Indeed, 2008 will end with over 50% of Czechs already being able to receive a comprehensive DTT offer. Hungary meanwhile launched a limited DTT service earlier this month, and Russia has finally started to flesh out its digital transition plans.
Poland and Slovakia, on the other hand, have disappointed through their indecision and inexplicable tender suspension respectively, and several other countries have also not exactly covered themselves in glory.
However, as some point out, the transition to digital broadcasting in CEE is much more than just the technical exercise it is seen as in Western Europe. There are often political forces at work, and they tend to slow things down.
2008 was an indifferent year for IPTV in CEE. While take-up in some markets, though principally Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, continued to grow rapidly, it remained disappointingly low in others such as Poland and Hungary.
It will be interesting to see how the newly launched Serbian platform Open IPTV performs next year, and if alternative carriers finally start launching services in Poland.
2009 is likely to be a somewhat different year to 2008 in CEE, with the financial crisis perhaps slowing down the digitalization process.
However, we should all remain cautiously optimistic.