Liberty Global’s decision to buy Aster is likely to have far-reaching implications for the Polish cable industry. It could also signal the start of an overhaul of the group’s assets in Central and Eastern Europe as a whole.
The sale of Aster to Liberty Global is itself not much of a surprise. Indeed, the latter has been the clear favourite to buy Poland’s fourth largest operator since it officially came on the market last summer.
What is interesting, however, is the speed with which Vectra issued a statement revealing it had also lodged a bid for Aster. Had it been accepted, the company would have effectively grown to the same size as Liberty Global’s UPC Polska, with the two vying for top spot in the Polish cable marketplace.
In the event, the Liberty/Aster deal will make UPC Polska the undisputed cable market leader, with almost twice as many subscribers as second placed Vectra and with an even stronger presence in the lucrative Warsaw market. One wonders if Vectra may now team up with third-placed Multimedia Polska – a merger between the two companies has been mooted in the past but never materialised – or one of the country’s mid-sized operators, such as Toya.
Further consolidation in the Polish cable market is now certainly on the cards.
However, Liberty Global’s actions may not stop in Poland, with some analysts predicting the company will try to pull out of Romania, providing it can of course find a buyer for its cable assets.
Romania has in fact developed into something of a running sore for Liberty Global, the strategy which it so successfully deploys elsewhere in Europe seemingly having little effect in what is a highly specific marketplace where three players – UPC, RCS/RDS and Romtelecom – are locked in a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of pricing.
Liberty Global may of course choose to remain in Romania, but its priorities will continue to lie elsewhere in the CEE region, with Poland growing in importance.