Can mobile TV services succeed in one of Central and Eastern Europe’s largest markets?
That is undoubtedly the question many observers are asking following the award of a DVB-H licence in Poland to a little-known company named INFO-TV-FM. The tender it won was also contested by a consortium of the country’s four mobile operators, which though appearing to be the favourite received only around two thirds of the points awarded to INFO-TV-FM.
The Office of Electronic Communications (UKE), which organised the tender, has said that its decision to grant the licence to INFO-TV-FM was made principally on competition grounds. Interestingly, INFO-TV-FM only lodged its bid on the last day of the contest (January 15), with several high-profile companies including Cyfra+ and Cyfrowy Polsat having decided not to participate despite previously expressing an interest.
INFO-TV-FM is based in the South Eastern Polish city of Zamosc and has until now been off most people’s radar screens. Formed in 2003 by the merger of two companies named Info Inwestycje and TV-FM, its focus was initially on distributing analogue TV and radio signals for both public and private broadcasters, employing its own network of transmitters. By doing so, it went head-to-head with TP EmiTel, the incumbent telco’s wholly owned transmission company.
However, INFO-TV-FM soon also began to undertake DTT trials. It also embarked on a DVB-H test in Warsaw in March 2007, with a view to launching a commercial service once Poland started the transition to digital broadcasting.
Having finally secured a DVB-H licence last Friday (February 6), INFO-TV-FM has had to move quickly to meet a one-week deadline of reserving frequencies in the 470-790 MHz waveband and paying the authorities an initial fee of just over PLN15.1 million (€3.2 million). The real investment it will nevertheless have to make is an estimated PLN200-300 million on infrastructure, which its majority shareholder NFI Magna Polonia will in part attempt to raise through a share issue.
INFO-TV-FM will certainly face a challenging time as it attempts to launch DVB-H services in up to 10 Polish cities, in what are increasingly difficult economic conditions, by the end of this year. In the long term, however, its licence, covering 31 cities up to mid-2015 and then the whole country until the end of 2023, is likely to prove an extremely valuable asset.
Moreover, long before the time it comes up for renewal, mobile TV will undoubtedly be a well-established feature of the audiovisual landscape, not just in Poland but CEE as a whole.