Whilst most countries in Western Europe now either have or are about to launch platforms, there is still little if anything to speak of in the Central and Eastern part of the continent.
Are things any better in the digital cable and DTH sectors? Although the former certainly exists, we end 2005 in anticipation of high-profile launches expected months ago that never materialised. In Hungary, for instance, none of the three leading MSOs (UPC, T-Kábel and FiberNet) have yet taken the plunge, though some smaller operators now offer digital TV packages. In Poland, Aster has 33,000 digital TV subscribers but UPC, Vectra and Multimedia Polska remain analogue TV operations, while in the Czech Republic it is hoped Karneval will finally launch its long-awaited digital TV service sometime in early 2006.
The situation is somewhat different on the DTH front as all the platforms serving Central and Eastern Europe are, of course, digital. While 2005 was not a year of great change aside from in Romania, there is a growing feeling that consolidation is on the horizon, especially in Poland. There, the rival services Cyfra+ and Cyfrowy Polsat have a combined total of around 1.2 million subscribers and find themselves operating in a market fast approaching saturation point. As in Spain and Italy, a merger could be on the cards, if not in 2006 than certainly long before the end of the decade.
While NTV-Plus remains a ‘DTH institution’ in Russia, UPC holds sway in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia but has largely been thwarted in its plans to expand to other markets. Its way forward is likely to be buying into other platforms, as was reported to be the case in Romania with Focus Sat earlier this year.
2006 promises to be a year of considerable change in Central and East European broadcasting. In the terrestrial sector, companies such as CME, Bertelsmann, MTG, SBS and News Corp. will continue to seek out new investment opportunities, with Russia, Poland and the Balkan region probably attracting the most attention. Digital cable rollouts will meanwhile – and at long last – get under way in earnest, and the first IPTV services may finally make their debuts. Even DTT will make its presence felt, though, it has to be said, much more slowly than in Western Europe. All in all, we could be in for something of a rollercoaster ride.