Albania’s TV industry has undergone enormous change in the last two decades.
Speaking exclusively to Broadband TV News at the Webit conference in Sofia earlier this week, Eglinor Ramaj, the acquisitions and business manager at DigitAlb, provided a timeline of recent events and insight into how the market looks today.
Ramaj said that up until 2004 only analogue FTA channels operated in the country. However, in that year DigitAlb launched what was at that time one of the first DTT services in Europe. Offering 22 channels of various genres, it proved to be very popular but due to Albania’s mountainous terrain only had limited reach. This was addressed by launching a DTH platform, distributed by Eutelsat W2 at 16 degrees East, at the end of 2004.
The years 2006-2010 were something of the boom period for DigitAlb as it secured rights to all the major football competitions and also began to carry a large number of international channels. Furthermore, it faced little or no competition, with its only, though much smaller, rival Tring making its debut in 2007.
However, all this changed between 2010-12 with the appearance of a cable industry that soon numbered around 150 licensed and 100 unlicensed operators. Into the fray stepped the US fund Bedminister, which acquired Abcom, one of the largest, and started to consolidate what was a fragmented market.
Ramaj said that at this stage DigitAlb decided to start cooperating with the operators and effectively change its role from being only a distributor to also one of providing content for others, operating on a revenue share basis.
Fast-forward to today and DigitAlb continues to work with cable companies and indeed the incumbent, which operates an IPTV service. It remains the market leader in the pay-TV sector and has an OTT service named Kudo (‘anywhere’) that it offers to subscribers as an add-on and has yet to commercialise.
Ramaj added that DigitAlb operates in both Albania and Kosovo, with 300,000 subscribers in the former and 100,000 in the latter. Meanwhile, Albania’s cable market serves around 150,000 customers and there are also around 30,000 IPTV subscribers in the country, with services provided by Albtelecom and other ISPs.
DigitAlb’s offer consists of no fewer than 76 packages, with most customers paying €7 a month for a basic package. Its VOD service is both push and traditional via the internet, with the company trying to move customers to the former.
Significantly, there are few companies other than DigitAlb currently operating in the OTT space in Albania.
Ramaj identified piracy as the biggest problem facing the industry in Albania. DigitAlb has an anti-piracy unit and works closely with Conax in such areas as watermarking. However, despite its best efforts the pirates always seem to be one step ahead.