Another chapter has begun in the history of one of Central and Eastern Europe’s longest-established commercial broadcasters.
Few would have thought when Central European Media Enterprises (CME) launched its first station TV Nova in the Czech Republic in February 1994 that 26 years later it would still be going strong and one of the region’s key players. Much has of course happened in the intervening time, including expansion to and at times also withdrawal from other markets; major financial difficulties; and changes of ownership.
As of this week CME has found itself under the control of PPF Group, a Czech-owned international investment group majority owned by the billionaire Petr Kellner. This follows the completion of a deal worth around $2.1 billion, with the company having been most recently majority owned by AT&T.
So, what does the future now hold in store for CME? While the company is in some ways a shadow of its former self, it still has a presence in no fewer than five markets – the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia. Nevertheless, it has like all other broadcasters been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic ¬– net revenues in the second quarter were 26.2% lower than in Q2 2019 and the rest of this year is unlikely to be much better.
In the Czech Republic, concerns have been raised about the position PPF Group will now hold in a market where it also owns the incumbent telco O2. Meanwhile, in Bulgaria, PPF Group will find itself in direct competition with Nova TV, formerly owned by Modern Times Group (MTG) and headed by Didier Stoessel. He has now the new CEO at CME, with responsibility for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Slovenia, with Lubos Jetmar, a former country manager at HBO for the Czech Republic and Slovakia and deputy chairman of the board at the Czech Republic’s FTV Prima, placed in charge of Bulgaria’s bTV.
The real question is probably to what degree is PPF Group committed to CME? Is the broadcaster a long-term investment, or does it plan to eventually sell it on, in part of fully, to another party?
We have already seen PPF Group sell a 25% stake in Telenor Hungary to Antenna Hungária only 16 months after acquiring Telenor’s assets in CEE in July 2018. It has more recently also been reported that PPF Group may sell all its former Telenor CEE assets, with Petr Kellner having informally spoken about a sale.
For now, though, being acquired by PPF Group will hopefully give long-established CME a new lease of life.
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