Is Liberty Global about to embark on a shopping spree?
Certainly the news that UPC Hungary is to acquire a third of Fibernet’s cable assets has come as something of a surprise to many in the industry. In recent weeks, the focus has been very much on Poland, where UPC appears to be the favourite to buy Aster, and Romania, where it is losing subscribers in what is a highly competitive and price sensitive marketplace.
Hungary seems a sensible enough place for UPC to expand its cable operations. Already the undisputed market leader – as of the end of Q3 it had 583,300 (analogue and digital cable) subscribers, with second placed Magyar Telekom’s Kábel TV claiming 385,884 – the deal with Invitel Holdings’ subsidiary securing a third of Fibernet’s assets will give UPC access to several parts of Budapest it is not yet present in, along with nearly 50 settlements in mostly Pest and Fejér counties.
Earlier this year Broadband TV News visited Fibernet to discuss its strategy and plans for the future. At that time, its then CEO György Kerékgyártó said “competition in Hungary has become very intense for all platforms, with DTH gaining share quickly compared to cable.” He also predicted consolidation in the cable industry would soon get under way in earnest, with Fibernet being a “key player” in the process, targeting small and medium sized operators.
Fibernet launched a digital TV service in 2009 and was considering adding HD channels, PVR and possibly also catch-up TV to its offer this year. Although its plans appeared to have fallen by the wayside, the networks UPC acquires will certainly receive these services sooner rather than later.
With Kábel TV gradually losing subscribers, UPC’s position as the leading cable operator in Hungary looks assured for the foreseeable future.
The real question is what the company plans to do its in other CEE markets. Will it indeed try to further strengthen its position in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where it is already the leading player, through further acquisitions? And what about Romania, where it will have a new MD at the start of next year?
The next few months are likely to be particularly interesting for the cable industry in Central and Eastern Europe.