Russian riddle

November 20, 2009

Just how many DTH platforms can a market as large as Russia sustain?

That is the almost inevitable question that comes to mind following the news, revealed earlier this week at the NAT conference in Moscow, that several more services may soon join the five already in operation.

DTH in Russia, it has to be said, has been a huge success story in the last few years. Up until the middle of the decade, the market had only been served by the long-established and highly respected NTV-Plus. But then, in quick succession, came Platforma HD, Raduga TV, Orion Express and Tricolor TV, the last of which now has in the region of 6 million subscribers.

Given the rapid take-up of DTH services, along with a cable market serving at least 13.5 million homes, questions also have to be asked about the prospects for digital terrestrial broadcasting in Russia. One speaker at the NAT conference is reported to have said that it will have no chance of succeeding unless the first multiplex includes HD channels.

While this was certainly not the assessment given at another event that took place earlier this week – the DigiTAG Annual Public Seminar in Geneva – one of the speakers provided food for thought about the whole issue of DTT in Russia and its prospects for the future.

In a presentation about Russia and the CIS countries, Ivan Omelianiuk, the CEO and general director of Kvant Efir, said that all the countries in the region have planned ASO dates for 2014 or (more commonly) 2015. However, the progress they have made in the digitisation process to date varied significantly, with only three – Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan– having commercial DTT trials up and running.

Indeed, there are an estimated 300,000 homes in Russia already receiving DTT signals through these trials, though DTT coverage is still less than 1% of the population and only around 1% of the territory of Russia.

Russia is certainly making a better fist of the transition to digital broadcasting than most other former Soviet republics (with the notable exception of the Baltics). However, as is certainly the case elsewhere in CEE, DTT will have its work cut out competing for subscribers with large and cable and DTH markets.

A report on the DigiTAG Public Seminar will appear in the next issue of New Television Insider.