This year’s Cable Congress took place in what was once the “Soviet” part of a divided German capital and against the backdrop of one of the world’s worst ever economic crises.
Unfortunately, it was budgetary cutbacks brought about by the latter that kept the number of delegates from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) relatively low by recent standards.
At the same time, there was no real acknowledgement of the symbolic importance of 2009 – the 20th anniversary of the end of the Cold War – and how much has recently changed in both the host city and former Soviet Block as a whole.
Even so, Cable Congress 2009 was an exceptionally good event, covering a broad spectrum of issues relevant to the European cable industry as a whole.
In his opening remarks, Manuel Kohnstamm, the president of Cable Europe, announced that the industry gained 10 million new subscribers in 2008, with CEE being responsible for much of the growth.
Data subsequently presented by Screen Digest indicated that the number of unique cable homes in the EU27 countries was expected to rise from 67.9 million at the end of 2008 to 73.3 million in 2013.
Those receiving digital services would meanwhile grow from 18 million (29% of the total) to 48 million (76%) over the same period, with the transition to digital driving growth in ARPU.
Screen Digest warned of the dangers of DTT to cable, referring to it as a “sleeping giant”. However, one could not help but feel that this was more relevant to West European rather than CEE countries, where DTT is – in many but by no means all markets – arriving too late to pose any real threat to cable, DTH and even IPTV, at least in the short to medium term.
In addition, Screen Digest predicted that there would be consolidation in the CEE DTH sector, with the number of low cost platforms falling. This would have a beneficial effect on the cable industry.
Furthermore, it predicted that cable would become the leading provider of HD channels in the EU27 countries, offering services to some 12.5 million homes. Given the rapid take-up of HD in CEE in recent months, Broadband TV News believes up to a third of these homes will be in the region in 2013.
Interestingly, it was revealed at the Congress that over 70% of cable operators in Europe still have no mobile product. However, those that do – the examples given were Sweden’s Com Hem and Portugal’s Zon Multimedia – had seen a significant reduction in churn.
Several operators in CEE have already become quad play companies and their number is likely to grow in the next few years.
Next year’s Cable Congress will be held in Brussels. Further down the line, it will hopefully return to a CEE venue, perhaps to mark the 25th anniversary of the world-changing events of 1989.