If you thought the dispute between United Media and Telekom Srbija was over think again.
This year began with what was referred to as a ‘cable war’ between the two parties. Although ostensibly about the carriage of United Media channels on a grouping of cable networks known as Supernova, its roots lay in something much deeper. Namely the way United Media, which is part of United Group, and Telekom Srbija, Supernova’s parent company, perceived themselves and each other in the marketplace.
United Media, despite having a strong presence through such operations as Serbia Broadband (SBB) and the news channel N1, finds Serbia a difficult country to operate in. Indeed, it claims there is no level playing field, with the odds being stacked heavily in favour of state-backed Telekom Srbija.
Telekom Srbija, on the other hand, continues to criticise United Media for the allegedly monopolistic position it holds in the market.
Although coverage of the dispute died down, certainly on an international level, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, there was an important development last month when Telekom Srbija announced it would file a lawsuit against United Group due to what it said were continued attacks against it in United-owned Serbian media. The telco claimed that since it had changed its business strategy and taken a more aggressive position in the market, United Group had become nervous about losing the dominant position it had held for years. Telekom Srbija also insisted it would not give up its intention to become a telecommunications leader in the region.
More recently, Telekom Srbija issued a defiant message against United Group that was published in some local media earlier this week.
Both United Group and Telekom Srbija are expanding rapidly in the Balkan region, with the former having most recently completed the acquisition of Bulgaria’s Vivacom earlier this month and the latter currently targeting Kosovo’s Ipko. As such, they are competitors and the rivalry can only intensify.
However, there is also a political dimension to the dispute, with the Serbian government having openly criticised United Group and the opposition the government for seeking to gain more influence through Telekom Srbija’s acquisitions. It is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
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