The long awaited consolidation in Poland’s cable industry is about to get under way in earnest, with the number four operator Aster expected to have a new owner by the end of the year.
Aster is one of the longest established players in Polish cable, having been formed by the merger of three smaller operators in 1994. Initially backed by Bresnan International Partners (BIP) and local shareholders, it has since had a succession of owners, the current one Mid Europa Partners (MEP) acquiring it for PLN1.6 billion in 2006.
Although Aster has limited its presence to Warsaw, Kraków and Zielona Góra, it has long had a reputation for being one of the most progressive cable operators in Poland, being a quad play company and one of the first in the country to introduce digital TV services.
Whoever buys it will be acquiring a lucrative business that despite being in debt to the tune of PLN1.5 billion has finally started to make a profit.
Were it to be UPC Polska, the Liberty Global company would automatically reinforce its position as the number one cable operator in Poland, with a subscriber figure approaching 1.5 million. However, should Vectra buy Aster then it would wrest the number one spot from UPC Polska and at the same time greatly strengthen its position in the lucrative Warsaw cable market, where it has only been present since the beginning of last year.
Of the other suitors eyeing Aster, one of the strongest contenders appears to be the private Swedish equity fund EQT V. It already owns Blizoo, the leading cable operator in Bulgaria, which it formed by acquiring and merging Eurocom and CableTel in 2009, and has expressed an interest in entering the Polish cable market.
The Polish incumbent telco TPSA is also a contender, simply because of its financial clout, though some local sources believe it is unlikely to succeed in taking over Aster.
The sale of Aster is likely to kick-start a period of consolidation in Polish cable that will involve not only the three other leading operators (UPC Polska, Vectra and Multimedia Polska) but also mid-sized players such as Toya and INEA. It is arguably long overdue and will definitely make the industry stronger in what is an increasingly competitive TV marketplace.