12.00 Update: UPC’s direct-to-home operation, UPC Direct, is to switch to Telenor’s One West satellite position from its present Astra berth.
UPC Direct has signed a long-term lease with Telenor Satellite Broadcasting for an initial seven transponders at one degree West spread between the Thor 5 and Thor 6 satellites. Thor 5 was launched in February 2008 while Thor 6 is set for launch in Q4 2009.
UPC Direct, serving Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, will begin migrating its 329,300 subscribers across to One West in the late spring of 2010.
“Telenor already has an established position within the region and it gives us an obvious and advantageous consolidation capability for UPC Direct as well as Focus Sat,” said Gene Musselman, president and COO of UPC Broadband.
The seven transponders in the agreement are in addition to the three already used by the 155,400-subscriber Romanian operation Focus Sat, fully acquired by UPC in 2006. Five transponders are currently held on Astra, with additional channels brought into the package through the Simulcrypt system.
In total, Telenor reaches some two million homes in Central and East Europe. Cato Halsaa, VP and CEO of Telenor Satellite Broadcasting, said the new contract would significantly increase the operator’s digital reach. “This is a positive development in strengthening our long standing relationship with UPC, which, over the years has grown through the success of Focus Sat in Romania. We look forward to continuing working with UPC Direct and developing their broadcasting requirements within this region”.
Although the deal has been on the cards for many months, Broadband TV News understands that the final contract was only signed at 16.00 on Wednesday afternoon.
A spokesman for SES said the operator continued to have confidence in the strong dynamics of the Central and East European markets: “These five transponders will help us to meet current demand and customer requests for capacity at our prime orbital position,” he said. “This capacity will serve the existing and expected future demand from both standard and high definition digital TV in our Western European key markets and further underpins the growth dynamics in this market.”
SES has been looking to reduce the number of transponders on Astra at 19 degrees East occupied by operators serving smaller markets in favour of more lucrative clients targeting Germany, France and Spain. However, while the plan may be to encourage the use of its 23.5 degrees East position, with the need to transfer subscribers whatever satellite is chosen, rival satellite providers have been able to turn heads.
The departure of UPC Direct does not represent a loss to SES of the Czech and Slovak markets. Astra’s 23.5 East orbital slot is home to the Skylink and CS Link packages that between them have close to one million homes.