These are extraordinary times for United Group, the leading multiplay operator in South-East Europe.
Established two decades ago, it has, according to its VP Finance Janez Zivko, almost tripled in size in the last 18 months.
The real turning point came in March 2019, when the international investment firm BC Partners completed the acquisition of a majority stake in the group, with its previous owner KKR retaining a substantial minority interest. Since then, United Group has bought Tele2 Croatia, Bulgaria’s Vivacom and Nova and Greece’s Forthnet. Although it has also become embroiled in a high-profile dispute with Telekom Srbija and Telenor Serbia, the direction of travel has been highly positive. Indeed, it has echoes of the expansion Central European Media Enterprises (CME) underwent in the CEE region in the 1990s, albeit through station launches rather than company acquisitions.
The first half of this year has been particularly eventful for United Group, with important announcements coming on a regular basis. This month alone we have seen the release of its first quarter and 2020 full year results; news that it is to merge its Slovenian and Croatian operations into a single unit; and the rebranding of Forthnet as Nova, the brand name the company uses in Greece.
The results reflected the group’s rapid expansion, with its pro-forma revenues reaching nearly €2 billion a year. The emphasis is very much on investment, with the objective being to allocate between 25-30% of its income towards new projects.
Indeed, Croatia and Greece have been earmarked for fibre-optic networks, with the latter country expected to receive an additional €50 million in the first phase of an investment plan in the second half of this year.
It is also interesting to note that United Group has in the last few days launched its N1 news portal in Slovenia. Like its sister services targeting Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, which have been operational since 2014, it is partnered with CNN.
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