Past form shows that Hungary has a habit of quickly making up lost ground.
Those who have followed its TV industry for a long time will be aware of the unique situation that existed in the country in the first few years following the return to democracy. While others in the region wasted little time in launching national, privately owned stations, it imposed a frequency moratorium that only effectively came to an end when RTL Klub and TV2 finally made their debuts in late 1997. By then, all the leading markets in CEE, as well as a multitude of smaller territories, already had well-established commercial TV industries.
Yet even so, Hungary quickly caught up and within a matter of months its TV market was barely distinguishable from most others in the region.
There are some parallels that exist today with the DTT sector. Admittedly, services are nothing like as widespread as commercial TV stations were 11 years ago, with no country in CEE having yet completed the transition to digital broadcasting. However, there has been significant progress in a number of territories including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia and Lithuania. And perhaps most surprising of all, Albania, which rarely finds itself in the spotlight, has had a DTT platform up and running for four years.
Following last week’s agreement between the National Communications Authority (NHH) and national transmission company Antenna Hungária, effectively confirming the award of a multiplex operator’s licence to the latter, Hungary will be catapulted to the top rank of ‘DTT nations’ in CEE at the end of this year. Indeed, by launching a new platform named MinDigTV, it will take the first step on the road to ASO, scheduled for the end of 2011.
While there is much to look forward to, especially the introduction of mobile TV services on the second multiplex, MinDigTV will essentially be aimed at the minority (25% at most) of Hungarian homes that currently receive only analogue terrestrial TV signals.
It is perhaps not surprising that Hungary’s late entry into the (terrestrial) commercial TV sector in the 1990s allowed it to develop a large cable industry. Since then, it has also acquired a dynamic DTH sector served by three platforms, one of which – Hello HD – made its debut earlier this year.
MinDigTV will certainly have an important role to play in the Hungarian market, though it will also have to live in the shadow of non-terrestrial TV.