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Before yesterdayBroadband TV News: Cable

Digi grows revenues, cable TV base

By Chris Dziadul

Digi Communications had total revenues of €299.4 million in the third quarter, up from €270 million in the same period last year.

At the same time, its adjusted EBITDA rose from €87.9 million to €127.5 million over the same period.

In its latest set of results, the company notes that revenues in its main market Romania increased as a result of price increases in all residential services that came into effect in March this year, as well as an increase it fixed internet and data and cable TV RGUs.

Meanwhile, its revenues in Hungary slightly decreased mainly as a result of ARPU decrease and the negative FX impact of the depreciation of the Hungarian forint.

In Romania, which had revenues of €190.9 million (+7.5% year-on-year) in Q3, the number of cable TV subscribers rose by 289,000 to 3,523,000 in the year to September 30.

At the same time, the number of DTH subscribers fell by 34,000 to 510,000.

Cable TV ARPU in Q3 was €5.3 (+6%) and DTH ARPU €5.1 (+6.3%). In Hungary, on the other hand, revenues in Q3 amounted to €53.1 million, down 2.7% on the same period last year.

The number of cable TV subscribers rose by 19,000 to 704,000, while the DTH subscriber total fell by 13,000 to 275,000.

Cable TV ARPU fell by 6% to €7.8, while DTH ARPU was down 3.4% to €8.6.

Sunrise cancels UPC acquisition contract with Liberty Global

By JΓΆrn Krieger

The planned takeover of Swiss cable operator UPC by Sunrise has finally failed. The Swiss telecommunications company has terminated the share purchase agreement with UPC parent company Liberty Global.

The cancellation triggers the payment of a penalty of CHF50 million (€46 million) to Liberty Global. Sunrise expects total additional costs of CHF70-75 million related to the transaction, consisting of underwriting fees (CHF19 million) advisory and legal fees, as well as already incurred integration costs (CHF24 million).

The planned acquisition of UPC Switzerland agreed in February 2019 failed due to opposition from Sunrise shareholders, in particular its largest single shareholder Freenet, who rejected the terms agreed with Liberty Global.

Liberty Global notes the termination received from Sunrise, but remains open for the renegotiation of a transaction. “While we would have preferred to keep the current share purchase agreement in place, we understand this move by Sunrise,” said Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global.

“The Sunrise board has been navigating a difficult situation. We look forward to continuing our conversations with either the board or Freenet about a potential transaction that creates significant value for both sets of shareholders and Swiss consumers,” added Fries. “There is no question that UPC remains the fulcrum player in Switzerland’s converging telecom market.”

UPC Switzerland now wants to pursue its business as a stand-alone company. “UPC continues to implement its growth plan, investing in the further development of its products and in the expansion of its high-performance cable network infrastructure,” said CEO Severina Pascu.

“We are very proud of the strong results UPC has achieved over the last months: in the last quarter, our net adds were positive again. During the last year we have delivered a stunning array of innovations – from the new UPC TV experience, which is very popular with our customers, to the unlimited mobile portfolio. And just recently, we launched Gigabit internet speed across the entire UPC footprint, thereby making a significant contribution to the digitisation of Switzerland,” added Pascu.

“UPC is continuing to invest strongly in the digitisation and simplification of processes and systems. These accomplishments prove that we are successfully implementing our growth plan and we will now continue to build on these achievements,” stressed Pascu.

Liberty Global records significant subscriber losses

By Julian Clover

Falls in the number of video and voice RGUs at Virgin Media took the shine off improved performances in Switzerland, Belgium Central and Eastern Europe for Liberty Global.

The cable operator lost 76,000 RGUs in the third quarter – 52,700 at Virgin alone – compared to a 32,000 gain in 2018.

But operating income was up 1.8% year-on-year to $208.8 million for continuing operations.

Liberty attributed the falls in its UK & Ireland business to a more disciplined approach to customer acquisition and retention combined with a shift in focus to higher-value TV bundles. Broadband added 5,000 RGUs, while telephony lost 9,000 RGUs.

“While, like everyone in the sector, there are challenges to navigate in the short-term, we have the vision, strategy and tools to strengthen our position as a competitive force in the marketplace and will continue to offer consumers the very best connectivity and TV,” said Lutz Schüler, CEO, Virgin Media.

In Belgium, Telenet’s loss of 36,000 subscribers is seen as progress, the operator has been fighting churn in the former SFR footprint.

Switzerland, where the financing model for the disposal of its business has been rejected, saw a loss of 14,000 RGUs, down from the 41,500 lost last year.

“While we are disappointed that Sunrise was unable to obtain approval for the financing of their acquisition of our Swiss operation, we are excited with the progress we continue to make in that market,” said Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries. “Like the rest of Europe, Switzerland is rapidly converging around fixed-mobile services, and our gigabit broadband networks and superior TV platform are the fulcrum assets in that market.”

Positivity came from Poland and Slovakia where a solid 26,500 RGUs built on similar gains last year.

Mobile put on another 132,000 subscribers including a record 107,000 postpaid mobile net adds in the UK and Ireland. Belgium added 31,000 mobile subscribers during Q3 including 43,000 net postpaid additions. And Switzerland added 16,000 mobile subscribers following a revamped mobile offer.

Legal blow for Polish cable

By Chris Dziadul

Poland’s Court of Competition and Consumer Protection (SOKiK) has dismissed an appeal by the Polish Chamber of Information Technology (PIIT) related to access to the infrastructure of Multimedia Polska, the country’s third largest cable operator.

In a statement, the Office of Electronic Communications (UKE) says that PIIT was appealing against its decision on September 11, 2018 determining the conditions for providing access.

It adds that in its appeal PIIT contested the amount of charges set out for the provision of cable ducting, arguing that they were discriminatory and should be lowered.

However, SOKiK ruled that the fees should not be identical for all entrepreneurs.

UKE concludes that this is the first decision issued on appeals against seven decisions setting out the framework conditions for access to the technical infrastructure of leading cable operators in Poland.

Further hearings are scheduled from January 2020.

Virgin Media strikes 5G mobile deal with Vodafone

By Julian Clover

Virgin Media has agreed a five-year mobile deal with Vodafone UK for the hosting of 5G and other mobile traffic on the Vodafone network.

The new Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) deal replaces the existing contract with BT Enterprise that is due to expire in late 2021.

Virgin’s new contract with Vodafone runs until 2026.

Virgin Mobile services will begin the transition to Vodafone at this point, however there will be an early launch for the next generation 5G services. Virgin says this will be in the “near future”.

Lutz Schüler, Virgin Media CEO, said: “Twenty years ago Virgin Mobile became the world’s first virtual operator and this new agreement builds on that heritage. It will open up a whole new world of opportunity for Virgin Media as we focus on becoming the most recommended brand for customers and bring our mobile and broadband connectivity closer together in one package for one price.”

As a ‘full MVNO’ Virgin Mobile has control over the products and services it offers, which means existing customers will not need to change their SIM cards as part of this agreement.

Nick Jeffery, Vodafone UK CEO, said: “We are delighted that Virgin has recognised the huge investments we’ve made, and continue to make, in building the UK’s best mobile network and our role in challenging the market with new commercial services. As a result, they have chosen us to work with them in the next phase of their development.”

A complementary wholesale agreement has also been struck between both parties in relation to the supply of network services by Virgin Media Business to Vodafone.

Vodafone has worked closely with Virgin Media’s parent Liberty Global, it is it’s joint venture partner in the Netherlands, and acquired its German business.

Virgin Media Ireland could reduce headcount

By Julian Clover

Virgin Media Ireland says up to 65 jobs could be lost at the cable operator as the company looks to improve growth.

“We are entering a new phase of transformation to ensure continued revenue growth,” said a spokesperson.

Owned by Liberty Global, Virgin currently employs 1,600 people in Ireland.

The former UPC Ireland rebranded as Virgin Media in 2015. The company subsequently added to its TV delivery, broadband and telephony services with the acquisition of TV3, now Virgin Media Television.

Sunrise launches OTT app for Samsung smart TVs

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Swiss cable operator Sunrise has made its OTT service Sunrise TV neo available as an app on Samsung smart TVs.

For the first time, viewers can now use the service directly through their TV set without a set-top box; previously, this only worked via the Apple TV box.

The app runs on the Huawei Envision video platform and offers over 230 TV channels, including more than 110 channels in HD quality as well as the Ultra HD channels Insight UHD, UHD 1 and Fashion TV UHD. Part of the line-up is also time-shifted TV streaming, cloud storage for up to 500 hours of recordings, seven days of ComeBack TV and a download function on mobile devices.

The Sunrise TV neo app can be used on up to six devices simultaneously, for example smartphones, tablets, PCs, Apple TV or Samsung smart TV.

Telenet sees best Q3 for two years

By Julian Clover

Telenet’s fixed-mobile bundles helped the Belgian cablenet to its best third quarter since 2017.

WIGO and YUGO added 40,400 subscriptions, an increase of 4% on Q2, despite the seasonality of the market.

Its led the Liberty Global-unit to revise its financial forecasts to a decrease of around 2% versus around 2.5% initially.

Amid softness in fixed line telephony, Telenet has seen its FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence) subscriber base increase to 508,000 at the end of the third quarter.

Telenet has increased its multi-play subscribers including an increase in higher-tier broadband customers. It’s added 4% to its ARPU growth for the first nine months of the year.

Revenues for the first nine months came in at €1,910.6 million, up 1% year-on-year.

French competition authority lifts Numericable restrictions

By Julian Clover

The Autorité de la concurrence has lifted the restrictions placed on Altice, imposed when its subsidiary Numericable acquired the mobile network SFR.

The competition authority had the choice of extending the restrictions for another five years, but concluded that competition between rival operators was sufficient, particularly in the area around fibre.

However, a separate injunction imposed in 2017 after Altice was fined for not moving fast enough in the joint construction of a fibre network with Bouygues Telecom remains in place.

When Altice moved to acquire SFR in 2015 it was feared the Patrick Drahi company would gain the edge in the fibre market. But Altice agreed to open its cable network to other telcoms operators.

Competition from operators, particularly Orange, has helped level the playing field and Orange itself has moved ahead of the cable.

Altice need no longer provide access to its network at pre-merger rates.

Sunrise cancels UPC takeover assembly with consent from Liberty Global

By JΓΆrn Krieger

The showdown between the supporters and opponents of Sunrise’s takeover of UPC Switzerland will not take place for the time being: The Swiss telecommunications company pulls the emergency brake and, with approval by UPC parent company Liberty Global, cancels the extraordinary general meeting (EGM) scheduled for October 23, 2019.

At the EGM, Sunrise shareholders were to decide on the planned capital increase of CHF2.8 billion. The approval of the capital increase was the last condition to complete the acquisition of UPC.

Based on clear indications received from shareholders and Freenet’s announcement to vote against the capital increase at the EGM, the board of directors of Sunrise has concluded that the clear majority of shareholders who have registered their shares to vote at the EGM do not support the capital increase, according to a Sunrise statement.

“We regret cancelling the EGM. We have spent a significant amount of time engaging with our shareholders and continue to believe in the compelling strategic and financial rationale of the acquisition,” said Peter Kurer, chairman of the board of directors of Sunrise.

Liberty Global recently tried to make the capital increase more attractive to shareholders by participating with CHF500 million and becoming a shareholder of the merged company. Previously, the size of the capital increase had already been reduced from CHF4.1 billion to CHF2.8 billion. Freenet continues to reject the acquisition under the agreed terms.

The further course of the development is unclear. The share purchase agreement has a long stop date of February 27, 2020 and remains in force unless terminated by a party.

While Sunrise CEO Olaf Swantee claims in an interview with Bloomberg that the deal was now “dead”, a Liberty Global spokesman told Broadband TV News that “the existing share purchase agreement remains in place.”

[UPDATE, 15.45 CET] UPC Switzerland wants to continue its business on a stand-alone basis for now. “Regarding the transaction, we have nothing to add to the Liberty Global press release issued this morning,” said CEO Severina Pascu. “UPC Switzerland is a strong company on a stand-alone basis. Our turnaround plan is working, we keep investing in our innovative product portfolio, and our Gigabit network assets continue to have strategic long term value.”

DNMG brings Folx TV to German cable

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German network operator association DNMG offers its more than 200 members music channel Folx TV for distribution via cable and IP.

The proposition is based on a framework agreement both parties concluded for a period of five years.

“With this agreement, we have taken an important step towards making Folx TV finally available to viewers via cable and IP after six successful years of satellite distribution. It is our goal to reach nationwide coverage across Germany,” said Sebastjan Artic, managing director of the channel which focuses on modern and traditional German music.

United Group in talks to buy Vivacom

By Julian Clover

United Group, the private equity-backed cable company, is holding exclusive talks to purchase Vivacom, Bulgaria’s largest telecoms group.

The Bulgarian entrepreneur Spas Roussev confirmed in July that the country’s incumbent telco had been put on the market.

Roussev currently owns 46% of Vivacom, with VTB (20% minus one share) and Delta Capital (19%) the two other main shareholders.

Vivacom is valued in the region of €1.2 billion.

United Group is owned by BC Partners with a minority stake held by the buyout specialist KKR.

In June, United Group completed the €220 million purchase of Tele2 Croatia.

The company also owns SBB, Telemach Slovenia and Telemach Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Tele2 Com Hem integration continues

By Julian Clover

Tele2 says its integration with Swedish cable network is progressing faster than planned.

Announcing its third quarter results, the telco said it had resulted in an impact close to SEK 150 million on the quarter. But the net effect in the company’s underlying EBITDA was partly offset by a decline in revenue, such as the continued decline in DTT operator Boxer.

The service lost 9,000 subscribers and there was also a drop in digital TV cable & fibre ARPU ¬– Tele2 has used the term ASPU for its average subscriber revenue of 6%. This was attributed to lower price increases than in the same period last year.

Revenue of SEK 6.9 billion remained flat.

CEO Anders Nilsson said that nine months into the year the company was on track to deliver on the full-year guidance with improving trends in the Sweden Consumer segment and continued execution in the Baltics.

New platform from Toya

By Chris Dziadul

The Polish cable operator Toya has unveiled a new platform named Maxx.

An enriched version of its 3G platform, it includes a 4K receiver and two channels – Funbox UHD and Ultra TV 4K – in the format.

Its official launch is due to take place in November and by year’s end it will include seven-day catch-up, start over and a global search engine.

The 4K receiver is manufactured by Korea’s Arion and based on advanced software from TiVo. It can work in both IP (GPON) and HFC networks and has a built-in DOCSIS cable modem to ensure interactivity.

Commenting on the development, Jacek Kobierzycki, general director of Toya, said that preparations for the implementation of the new platform lasted nearly two years and were carried out in an international team with the key participation of its own Development Department.

Liberty Global steps in to rescue UPC/Sunrise deal

By JΓΆrn Krieger

In a bid to rescue the uncertain takeover of its subsidiary UPC Switzerland by Swiss telecommunications company Sunrise, Liberty Global is to participate in the capital increase arranged to finance the deal and become a shareholder in the combined entity. However, Sunrise’s largest single shareholder Freenet still opposes the transaction.

Liberty Global has agreed to support the Sunrise rights offering up to an aggregate amount of CHF500 million (€455 million) through the purchase of tradeable subscription rights at market prices and the subsequent purchase of newly issued shares, if any, in the rights offering.

If fully utilised, the move would lead to Liberty Global owning 7.8% in Sunrise at current market prices. Sunrise and Liberty Global have also agreed that Liberty Global will receive one board seat nomination as long as its shareholding exceeds 5%. All other terms of the CHF6.3 billion transaction remain unchanged.

“We have always believed in the logic of this combination. It creates a national powerhouse that will provide a fully-converged challenger to Swisscom and represents a smart and accretive transaction for both Sunrise and Liberty shareholders,” said Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global. “We are also happy to support the financing. Both investors and consumers win when this deal closes.”

The takeover of UPC Switzerland is subject to the majority of Sunrise shareholders approving the capital increase at an extraordinary general meeting scheduled for October 23, 2019. Swiss regulatory authority WEKO recently approved the deal without conditions.

Sunrise welcomed Liberty Global’s move, arguing that the company could add considerable value by leveraging its operational and integration experience to support the management in delivering the synergies and running its high-speed broadband network. Liberty Global’s investment in the capital increase would also lessen the financial commitment needed from Sunrise shareholders.

“We welcome Liberty Global’s investment in our rights issue which further validates the compelling strategic and financial rationale of the combination between Sunrise and UPC Switzerland,” said Peter Kurer, chairman of the board of directors of Sunrise. “Liberty Global is a leading global cable operator and will bring considerable experience to our board to support management in running the combined business and delivering on our identified, actionable synergies. We look forward to welcoming Liberty Global as a significant shareholder in our company and, in due course, as partner in our board.”

However, it still remains uncertain whether the deal will go through. Sunrise’s largest single shareholder, German media group Freenet, has decided to uphold its opposition although Liberty Global’s move to become a shareholder in the combined entity has been one of the conditions demanded by Freenet.

“Liberty Global’s participation does not change our position or that of the majority of other shareholders on the deal”, a Freenet spokesperson told Broadband TV News. “We continue to believe that the deal is not good. The latest developments show that Sunrise is now trying every trick in the book to turn the tide. Liberty Global merely announces that it will participate at rock-bottom prices with the money it has won from an overpriced sale. This is a slap in the face of all existing shareholders.”

DNMG brings Stingray Ultra HD channels to Germany

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German cable and fibre-optic network operator association DNMG will offer three Ultra HD (UHD) channels from Canadian media company Stingray for redistribution.

Through the agreement, Stingray Festival 4K, Stingray Hits 4K and Stingray Ambiance 4K will become available for the first time in the German-speaking market.

The channels are not distributed to head-ends via satellite, but through a carrier VPN broadband connection via a playout server in the Equinix FR5 internet exchange centre in Frankfurt/Main. The move marks DNMG’s first investment in its own systems and infrastructure, creating the basis for future UHD business models set up by its network partners.

Stadtwerke Konstanz, RFT, wilhelm.tel and willy.tel will be the first network operators to receive and distribute the channels this way.

With over 200 members, DNMG is the largest marketing organisation for medium-sized and municipal operators of cable and fibre-optic networks in German-speaking countries.

Akado upgrades digital TV platform

By Chris Dziadul

The Russian cable operator Akado Telekom has successfully completed the upgrade of its digital TV platform.

In a statement it says that the procedure was undertaken without interruption of TV services and involved the deployment of a solution from the Russian company Teletor named TeleTAG.

It adds that TeleTAG is a hardware and software system that implements the process of generating metadata. The system imports from external sources all information about TV channels and programmes for the next 10 days, as well as a description of each TV programme. TeleTAG provides intelligent editing of the TV programme: control the length of text fields, spelling, correctness and completeness of data, also processes information and broadcasts it on the operator’s network.

The complex provides simultaneous support for TV programmes in several languages.

Commenting on the development, Dmitry Sinitsyn, deputy general director for technological development and operation at Akado Telekom, said: “We closely monitor the development of technologies, constantly test and implement modern and functionally advanced technical solutions, planned replacing obsolete equipment.

“It is important for us to provide all customers with high-quality digital television services with a guarantee of continuous TV broadcasting. After thorough testing of several DVB-SI systems, we decided to replace the outdated foreign platform with modern equipment of the Russian manufacturer. The Teletor platform is implemented in compliance with all DVB standards, allows our subscribers to receive the full-fledged DTV service of the highest quality with up-to-date information support, and gives us the opportunity to develop digital television services in the future. ”

Telenet to switch off analogue in 2020

By Robert Briel

Belgian cable operator Telenet will start to discontinue distribution of the analogue radio and television signals on its cable in 2020.

An estimated 360,000 customers will be affected by †he switch-off. About half of †hem use the analogue signal as their sole mode of viewing, while the other half uses analogue for their second or third TV-set.

This will free up space on the cable for the ever-increasing digital traffic. For the customers concerned, the company offers a technical solution: a large proportion of analogue television viewers can continue to view their familiar channels by adjusting the settings of their television set once.

Telenet has already started communication with its subscribers to make sure that everyone is informed. Under the name ‘The Signal Switch’, it bundles all information for customers via letters, e-mails and a dedicated website.

The discontinuation of analogue television will start in the autumn of 2020 and will be phased in until the end of 2021. The signal for analogue cable radio will also be phased out from 10 February 2020.

Salzburg AG launches IPTV platform with Ocilion

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Austrian cable operator Salzburg AG has launched multiscreen TV platform TV Plus based on an end-to-end solution from Austrian IPTV service provider Ocilion.

Customers of the company serving Salzburg and parts of Styria will receive a package consisting of a 4K set-top box, remote control and CableLink TV app in Salzburg AG’s design, seven-day replay, PVR, premium HD channels and an VOD service.

As a special introductory offer, CableLink internet customers can use TV Plus free of charge for six months.

As part of the collaboration announced in March 2019, Ocilion set up the complete IPTV system on site at Salzburg AG and integrated it into the network operator’s infrastructure, including software, hardware, services, devices and apps for tablets and smartphones.

Sportdigital to launch EDGEsport in Germany

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German broadcaster Sportdigital TV Sende- und Produktions GmbH, which operates pay-TV channel Sportdigital Fußball, wants to bring the international fun and action sports channel EDGEsport to Germany.

The channel is to be operated under a German broadcast licence. German media commission KEK gave the green light at its latest assembly in Berlin. The licence application was submitted at local media authority MA HSH.

The German version of EDGEsport is to be distributed as a pay-TV service via satellite on Astra (19.2° East), on cable networks, IPTV platforms and via the internet including mobile and smart TV apps.

The programme content will be commissioned from the UK-based media group IMG Media Ltd., which operates EDGEsport in many other markets. The expansion of the channel across Europe followed a long-term multi-platform distribution agreement signed with M7 Group in 2014.

German sports fans might be familiar with the EDGEsport brand as media company ProSiebenSat.1 signed a multi-year distribution deal with IMG in 2015 to broadcast the channel’s programmes on its TV channels in German-speaking Europe.

In 2017, EDGEsport launched as an OTT service in Germany and Austria through Amazon Prime Video Channels, offering live and on-demand content in HD quality for €2.99 per month.

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