As was predicted, 2018 turned out to be a year of M&As in Central and Eastern Europe. However, not everything went according to plan and some deals failed to come off or were left in limbo.
The most high profile was undoubtedly Liberty Global’s decision to sell its assets in Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic to Vodafone. Part of a €19 billion transaction that also involved Liberty’s Germany operations, it was expected to close in mid-2019 but now finds itself the subject of an in-depth investigation by the European Commission, which has raised concerns it could reduce competition in Germany and the Czech Republic.
Meanwhile in Poland, 2018 began with Inea, one of the country’s top five cable operators, under new ownership, with the competition authority UOKiK having approved its sale to Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund 5 by Warburg Pincus. However, the cable market was then shaken to the core by the news in March that UPC had pulled out of its proposed deal to buy Multimedia Polska. A few months later, Vector signalled its intention to take over Multimedia, and though a deal has so far failed to materialise it could still happen.
In Bulgaria, Modern Times Group (MTG) effectively signalled the last stage of its departure from the region’s TV industry in February by agreeing to sell the national broadcaster Nova to the Czech Republic’s PPF Group. Five months later, the deal was blocked by the country’s Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) and it still remains unclear as to what will now happen.
On the other hand, PPF Group had more success in acquiring Telenor’s assets in Hungary, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia in a deal that was worth €2.8 billion and closed in August. Discovery also secured the EC’s permission to buy Scripps Networks Interactive, thereby significantly strengthening its position through TVN in Poland.
Other important deals that closed in 2018 included Digi’s acquisition of Invitel in Hungary; Netia’s by Cyfrowy Polsat in Poland; and, as the year drew to a close, Antenna Group’s media assets in Serbia and Montenegro by Serbia’s Kopernikus Corporation. The latter followed soon after Kopernikus had sold the second largest cable operator in Serbia to Telekom Srbija.
We also saw the international investment firm BC Partners agree to buy a majority stake in United Group, the leading cable and media operator in South Eastern Europe.
2018 was clearly a busy year on the M&A front in CEE, and we can probably expect more of the same in the next 12 months.