The numbers game

By Chris Dziadul
December 4, 2009 08.39 UK

Could we be about to enter a period of consolidation in Poland’s cable industry that will result in the disappearance of some of its leading players?

That is certainly the prospect being painted by the Swedish holding EQT V, which has gone on record as saying that it would like to buy and merge at least two of the four leading operators, namely UPC, Vectra, Multimedia Polska and Aster. At the same time, Liberty Global has revealed that following the recent acquisition of Germany’s Unitymedia, it plans to focus on organic growth, with Poland, where it is already the leading operator in terms of subscriber numbers, a priority market.

What could this all mean in practice? Poland’s cable industry, though by no means in rude health, is certainly more than holding its own in what is one of CEE’s most competitive TV markets.

Indeed, besides facing competition from six DTH platforms, the leading one of which (Cyfrowy Polsat) has just revealed it now has 3 million subscribers, it may soon have to contend with a threat from DTT, which made a low-key debut with the launch of Poland’s first multiplex at the end of September.

Take up of digital cable services is growing rapidly in Poland – Vectra and UPC, the two leading providers, now probably have a combined total of between 450,000-500,000 subscribers – and they could well be received in 1 million homes by the end of this year.

Additional services are also being rolled out at a rapid rate, especially by the leading operators. Just this week, UPC introduced VOD in Warsaw and environs, while Vectra, which will follow suit in 2010, launched a HD PVR product last month. Toya, the sixth largest operator, was meanwhile already offering its subscribers no fewer than 15 HD channels as of this October.

Consolidation amongst Poland’s leading cable operators has been a topic of discussion for a number of years. Now, however, the prospect of ‘the big four’ becoming ‘the big two’, or even the emergence of a single dominant player, has moved just that step closer.