Clouds and silver linings -
By Chris Dziadul
August 6, 2009 20.03 UK
While Liberty Global’s latest financials are disappointing, it is certainly not all gloom and doom for its operations in Central and Eastern Europe.
Following the recent sale of UPC Telemach in Slovenia to Mid Europa Partners, the company, through UPC Broadband, now has a presence in five regional markets. And in each, the general trends are remarkably similar.
The take-up broadband internet, for instance, looks encouraging, with all five having grown their subscriber base in the second quarter. However, the number of new additions varied considerably, from only 800 in Hungary to 15,100 in Poland.
A similar growth trend was noted in telephony, again with significant differences between the various markets. In this case, Romania came out on top (+9,200) and Slovakia at the bottom (+1,900).
The real concerns lie with the cable and DTH sides of the business. Although the rollout of digital cable in all five markets is gathering momentum, with the take-up in some at the end of Q2 quite impressive – the Czech Republic had 353,100 and Romania 179,600 subscribers – cable customers as a whole are being lost.
In Hungary, for instance, nearly twice as many gave up their analogue cable subscription as signed up for digital ones in the quarter.
Meanwhile in the DTH sector, UPC Direct gained 1,100 subscribers in Hungary in Q2 but lost 600 in Slovakia and 5,500 in the Czech Republic. Focus Sat in Romania secured only an additional 400 customers.
UPC Broadband is rightly placing the focus on advanced services, with one of the most recent developments being the introduction of a 100 Mbps offer in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, at the end of Q2.
DVR is now available in all its CEE markets, HD in most (Romania, one exception, will have channels in the format from later this year) and VOD is being rolled out.
Even so, the company faces major challenges in each of its five regional markets. Its DTH operations, in particular, are each having to contend with competition from 3-4 rival platforms, some of which (Skylink in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Dolce in Romania, to name but two) are enjoying remarkable success.
Liberty Global will undoubtedly come out of the current economic crisis in CEE good shape. Until then, however, the going will remain tough.