Digital concerns

October 22, 2009

The latest conference and exhibition organised by the Polish Chamber of Electronic Communication (PIKE) had special significance, marking as it did the 20th anniversary of cable in the country.

However, this important milestone was quickly forgotten amid debates on current issues, not all of them directly related to cable.

Cable, it has to be said, has done well in Poland in the last two decades. Despite growing competition from DTH platforms, which have been present in the marketplace since the late 1990s, it currently claims around 4.6 million subscribers. What is more, Jerzy Straszewski, the president of PIKE, claimed this figure could be increased to 7.5 million, or around 55% of total TV homes.

Furthermore, despite a slow start, digital cable is finally starting to happen in Poland. As of the middle of this year services were already received in around 750,000 homes, and the figure should rise to almost a million by the end of this year.

However, industry’s Achilles heal, as pointed out so aptly by Cable Europe’s president Manuel Kohnstamm, is its fragmented nature. While the four leading operators have a combined market share of around 50%, the remainder is shared between a further 500.

The industry also has its fears, perhaps the most surprising of which is DTT. Indeed, there is a view that it could steal subscribers to cable’s cheaper, though particularly lifeline, packages.

The launch of DTT in Poland has nevertheless been little short of farcical, with the first multiplex, which made its debut last month, still without an operator and nothing yet decided about the second multiplex.

What is more, despite all the talk and recent concrete developments, the country has embarked on digitisation – for the terrestrial TV sector, it should be stressed – with no real strategy in place.

Perhaps that is not so important, given Poland’s high cable and DTH penetration and the fact that DTT’s potential market is only around 3 million TV homes.

Polish cable certainly faces future challenges, but DTT is unlikely to be main one, at least in the short to medium term.