A narrow escape
2009 will be remembered first and foremost as a year in which our worst fears were not realised.

December 17, 2009

2009 will be remembered first and foremost as a year in which our worst fears were not realised.

It began with the world slipping into recession, having just avoided the collapse of the global financial system. Needless to say, there were question marks as to the future of the TV industry in the CEE region and survival of many companies. And perhaps not surprisingly, they centred round broadcasters heavily dependent on advertising rather than cable and DTH platforms, whose main source of income was derived from subscription fees.

The fact that companies such as CME, which operates commercial TV stations in no fewer than seven countries, came through this year still fighting fit says much for the resilience of the industry. It also bodes well for looks like being an eventful and highly interesting 2010.

This year will be remembered as one in which the take-up of digital TV services – principally those provided by cable and DTH operations – grew impressively throughout the CEE region. IPTV continued to enjoy mixed fortunes, being highly successful in some countries (Russia, Croatia, Slovakia, and Slovenia, to name but four), but much less so in others (Poland and Romania), while DTT remained in the slow lane.

Indeed, in the latter case, the year ended with not a single country having yet completed the transition to digital broadcasting. What is more, only one or two, including Estonia, will do so in 2010.

The long-awaited consolidation in the region’s DTH sector never really materialised in 2009, though there were some important deals. Mid Europa Partners, which already included Serbia Broadband (SBB) and its platform Total TV, bought the Bulgarian operation ITV Partner in October.

Just a month earlier, Russia’s Gazprom-Media, whose interests include NTV-Plus, acquired Tricolor TV, the largest platform in the region in terms of subscriber numbers.

Although more DTH platform launches are likely in 2010, so, too, are mergers and acquisitions.

Consolidation is also on the agenda in the cable sector. It is becoming increasingly likely that Poland’s “big four” operators will by this time next year be the “big two” or even “one”, with Liberty Global and/or Sweden’s EQT V emerging dominant players.

Having survived 2009, the region’s TV industry certainly has much to look forward to in 2010.