What would you say were your main achievements as president of the CAEC?
It’s certainly a fact that for 20 years we have been able to maintain the CAEC (the Czech Association of Electronic Communications) as an active, strong and respected business association, both in the European and the national context. We prevented ourselves from becoming a superficial lobbying group; on the contrary, we have consistently taken care of the objectivity and perfect knowledge of the European and national legal and regulatory environment and by doing so, we have become a respected partner and reference point.
What were your greatest challenges?
It was – and still is – convergence. Responding correctly to a rapidly changing market environment and technological changes in such a dynamically evolving industry as electronic communications was really a challenge and I have every reason to believe that CAEC has been fully successful. This is evidenced in particular by the fact that the original association of mere cable TV operators in the Czech Republic has expanded widely and turned into a real association of operators of electronic communications networks and services, whose members provide an extensive range of services, ranging from TV retransmission to fast internet access, from content creation to its lawful protection. This has also led to a gradual expansion of the circle and character of our partners, ranging from government and state administration to business and industry operations. Even here CAEC was always able to react promptly and therefore became one of the three major associations in the field of electronic communications and ICT in the Czech Republic and the only association that consistently dealt with content protection.
How has the Czech cable industry changed in the last two decades?
It has changed absolutely fundamentally. From modest beginnings in the 1990s, when cable TV providers offered “take where to take” (i.e. without contracts or proper copyright settlement etc) foreign programmes, without an active return channel, to the present day, when it is no longer about “cable TV” in the original sense but fully-fledged network operators and providers of electronic communications services. That is, DVB-C retransmission of TV signals, as well as access to high-speed internet at speeds of up to 500 Mbps, with a realistic potential of up to 1 Gbps. Everything took place in the years when the activities of CAEC and its members were the key players in these developments in the Czech Republic.
What problems does it currently face and how do you assess its prospects for the future?
First it is competition from other platforms (eg mobile networks – here it is equal and fair, so welcome); second, the unfair competition of various “quasi-entrepreneurs” who gain benefits at the expense of well-functioning operators by circumventing the law; and third, an unresolved relationship with collecting copyright societies. The problem, not only ours, is also the apparent overproduction of European and national legislation, and we have also been greatly troubled by Brexit, as British friends have always been very good and fair partners and knowledgeable and experienced colleagues within the EU.
Will the industry significantly be impacted by UPC Czech’s upcoming sale to Vodafone?
Not in the slightest.
Looking at the wider Czech market, can you see any fundamental changes taking place in the next few years? Is the still relative low pay-TV penetration likely to rise and will DTT remain the main mode of TV reception?
At our 2015 annual conference a curious bet was made, namely that within five years, i.e. by 2020, the number of pay-TV customers would exceed the number of viewers who did not pay for TV. The transition to DVB-T2, which is gradually being implemented in the Czech Republic, can bring big changes to this ratio. It’s not so much about what the main mode of TV reception will be, it is rather about how the number of TV consumers will generally continue to decline. The young generation – and I mean generations aged under 40 – is less and less interested in television, their interest being the internet, social networks, mobile communications. Older generations have become accustomed to the fact that there are two essential things for free: public lighting and TV. For those DTT will indeed continue to be the main mode of TV reception, regardless of the persistent deterioration of the quality of TV programme offer (and, of course, there’s nothing for free – even TV). Moreover, the reality of TV broadcasting poverty in the Czech Republic deepens the fact that public service TV fails in its legal role and commercial TVs do not offer any reasonable alternative. Therefore, I would say that the arrival of DVB-T2 may also represent the twilight of TV entertainment and if we don’t want to waste time at the TV set watching a lot of stupid endless series we will have to look for lessons, fun and news elsewhere and quite differently. The young generation has long known and follows this.
How to envisage the market will look after these changes?
Very gloomy, with regard to TV reception (I´m afraid), very promising, colourful, and unrivalled in terms of
very-fast internet access and ultra speed broadband services. If you allow me to suggest a parallel, it is like comparing the Russian Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957 to a US New Horizon reconnaissance of Pluto and Charon in 2015.
Your term of office of the CAEC Chairman ended on 28 February 2019, after 20 years spent working for the association. How do you feel?
Great, just great! After my term of office came to an end, I left promptly and faster than light for my country seat, where I indulge to the full my passion for painting, literature, genealogy, astronomy, ornithology and the study of the Canon law and Anglo-Saxon law, as well as exploring the endemic species of flora and fauna in the Iron Mountains and musing on the quantum theory of gravity and the principles of physics in the domain of the Planck length.