Liberty Global, aka UPC, has finally left Romania after close to two decades in the country.
Created by the merger of several smaller operators in 2003, UPC Romania saw a period of unpredented expansion in the next few years, the highlight of which was undoubtedly the acquisition of Astral Telecom from local and foreign investors, including AIG New Europe, in 2005.
The deal, worth $407 million, automatically propelled UPC Romania into the premier league of the country’s booming pay-TV industry. At the same time, its parent company Liberty Global entered the Romanian DTH market by acquiring a 50% stake, and then gaining total control, of Focus Sat.
However, almost from the onset UPC Romania faced strong competition, the likes of which it had not experienced in any of the other CEE market it was present in. This was led by RCS&RDS, otherwise known as Digi, which had built up a strong pay-TV business both in Romania and in other regional markets, and the incumbent Romtelecom, since rebranded Telekom Romania.
Rumours that Liberty Global planned to sell UPC Romania first appeared at least a decade ago and were roundly dismissed by the company, which insisted that it was an important part of its CEE business. In one instance, RCS&RDS was reported to have offered around $300 million for the operator.
Now UPC Romania, along with its sister companies in Hungary and the Czech Republic, does indeed find itself with a new owner and its future arguably looks more secure than at any time in years. As part of Vodafone, it will be in a much stronger position to hold its own in a Romanian telecom market that is undergoing a major transformation, the next stage of which will be a change of ownership at Telekom Romania.