Talk about consolidation in the upper echelons of Poland’s cable industry has been rife for some time now. Could it be about to get under way?
Although we are still dealing with speculation at this stage, it looks increasingly likely that Aster will be the first of the leading operators to be taken over by one of its rivals. Just over two months ago its president Janusz Arciszewski revealed that an investment advisor would be appointed within a matter of weeks, as Mid Europa Partners, the company’s main backers, have a five-year business plan that runs out in 2011 and may want to sell up.
Aster has already attracted interest from UPC, Vectra, Multimedia Polska and – perhaps surprisingly – the incumbent telco TPSA, whose TV assets are currently confined to IPTV and DTH operations with a combined subscriber total of 453,000 as of the middle of this year.
Also in the picture is the mobile operator Polkomtel, which only earlier this week expressed an interest in entering the TV market. It has been linked with Multimedia Polska, but is almost certainly keeping an eye on Aster.
At the time of Arciszewski’s statement earlier this summer, it was reported that Aster could cost any prospective buyer in the region of PLN1.7 billion (€424 million). However, they would also have to take on debts believed to be in the region of PLN1.5 billion.
The latter could well put off Multimedia Polska, while Polkomtel may be deterred by what it sees as a general overvaluation of cable operators in Poland. Both companies nevertheless probably have sufficient clout to take over a company such as Aster, as do indeed Vectra and (of course) UPC.
Aside from the ‘big four’, Poland has a number of mid-sized cable operators headed by Inea and Toya and several hundred small ones. While any deal involving the top four will undoubtedly make the biggest headlines, others among the smaller players will also be important. Ultimately, the market is still too fragmented and needs consolidation to remain competitive.