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Before yesterdayBroadband TV News: Cable

Deutsche Telekom, industry associations consider legal action against EU approval of Vodafone/Unitymedia merger

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Deutsche Telekom and several industry associations are considering taking legal action against the European Commission’s decision to approve Vodafone’s acquisition of German cable operator Unitymedia.

“We will closely analyse the decision of the competition authority and then decide whether a review in court is necessary to protect competition,” a Telekom spokesman told Broadband TV News. “We are convinced that the concessions are not sufficient to counter the negative effects in the area of media and content diversity.”

German commercial broadcaster association VAUNET also wants to “look at the decision in detail and evaluate further steps.” The EU Commission was cementing Vodafone’s “quasi-monopoly” in the German cable market, which would then possess around 80% of cable subscriptions, according to a statement. It would, thus, be easy for Vodafone to dictate the conditions for the distribution, packaging, accessibility and visibility of content.

German cable operator association FRK will also have the EU decision juridically examined and, if necessary, take legal action against it together with other industry associations. “The now manifested duopoly of Vodafone and Telekom with its concentrated power will threaten the existence of small and medium sized players in unequal competition,” warns FRK chairman Heinz-Peter Labonte. At the same time, this would “herald the end of the nationwide deployment of fibre-optic networks, which has been driven by medium-sized cable operators, municipal utilities and regional providers.”

According to German fibre-optic cable operator association BREKO, the merger will lead to “a considerable restriction of competition – and thus to disadvantages for citizens and companies.” As examples, the association cites the market for contracts with the housing industry to supply end customers with cable services, which Vodafone would dominate with a market share of around 75%, and the fibre-optic market, in which regional and medium-sized companies would hardly have a chance, while Vodafone itself could withdraw from the rollout of fibre-optic networks, as it could just rely on is cable network in future.

Tele Columbus also fears that the “re-monopolisation of the cable market” could weaken competition in the supply of the housing market and lead to rising infrastructure and media provision costs for housing companies at the expense of tenants. In addition, fibre-optic deployments could be slowed down due to the merged company’s unwillingness to invest, a spokesman of the German cable operator told Broadband TV News.

German cable service association DNMG also warns of the negative effects of the merger. Vodafone’s concessions “are in no way suitable to secure competition for content, infrastructure and services,” DNMG managing director Ingo Schuchert told Broadband TV News. This would come at the expense of medium-sized businesses, end-customers and infrastructure deployment.

On July 18, 2019, the EU Commission announced its decision to approve the acquisition of Unitymedia by Vodafone subject to conditions.

EU clears Vodafone/Liberty Global cable deal under conditions

By JΓΆrn Krieger

The European Commission has approved the acquisition of Liberty Global’s cable business in Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania by Vodafone.

The approval is conditional on full compliance with a commitments package offered by Vodafone to ensure that customers will continue to get “fair prices, high-quality services and innovative products”, according to Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy.

To remove the EU Commission’s competition concerns in the German market, Vodafone committed itself to grant its competitor Telefónica access to the merged cable network of Vodafone and Liberty Global’s subsidiary Unitymedia.

In addition, Vodafone will refrain from contractually restricting the possibility for broadcasters that are carried on the merged entity’s TV platform to also distribute their content via an OTT service.

Vodafone has also agreed not to increase the carriage fees paid by free-to-air broadcasters for the distribution of their linear TV channels via Vodafone’s cable network and to continue carrying their HbbTV signals which enable viewers to access the broadcasters’ interactive services.

“We’re pleased that the European Commission has recognised the considerable benefits that this important transaction brings to millions of consumers across Germany, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic,” said Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global. “And it is good news for our employees in each market who will become part of a fixed-mobile national challenger with the strength and scale to take on national telco incumbents.”

Vodafone and Liberty Global announced the acquisition in May 2018 at a purchase price of €18.4 billion. Competitors, industry associations and the housing industry strongly criticised the plan because of competition concerns.

The EU Commission examined the planned takeover in detail. In April 2019, it was rumoured that the Brussels-based competition authority will probably approve the deal.

The transaction is now to be completed by July 31, 2019.

UPC Polska launches mobile services

By Chris Dziadul

Poland’s leading cable operator UPC Polska has added mobile to its portfolio and introduced a new converged offer.

The mobile part of the offer is based on four main tariff plans, namely Smart, Comfort, Super and VIP. All include unlimited calls in Poland, unlimited SMS and MMS, as well as roaming services.

It also includes internet packages of 5, 10,15 and 20GB, as well as a promotional offer for junior users.

TV and internet subscribers who purchase a mobile service will also be offered a premium package (HBO, Polsat Sport Premium+ Eleven Sports or the Safety Package for only PL1 (€0.23) for the first two months.

UPC Polska’s mobile service also includes an offer for businesses that contains higher data packages.

Commenting on the development, UPC Polska CEO Robert Redeleanu said: “Launching the mobile offer is a strategic step for us as well as another promise we have made to our clients. By introducing mobile services, we become a fully convergent operator providing the best internet and digital entertainment, anytime, anywhere. Our offer, based on gigabit speeds and the best integrated TV content, complemented by a mobile service, stands out in the market and ensures best-in-class customer service in a competitive telecommunications market”.

Volker Libovsky moves from Liberty Global to Magenta Telekom

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Volker Libovsky has joined Austrian telco Magenta Telekom as a new member of the management board.

As Chief Technology & Information Officer (CTIO), the 42-year-old is responsible for the IT, networks and operations of Deutsche Telekom’s Austrian subsidiary, including mobile and fibre-optic network deployment.

Libovsky previously worked at Liberty Global’s European headquarters as CIO/VP for systems integration and M&A and has decades of experience in management functions at Liberty Global, Unitymedia, Virgin Media and UPC.

Magenta Telekom emerged from the merger of T-Mobile Austria, the Austrian subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, with Liberty Global’s Austrian cable subsidiary UPC Austria.

Zegona provides Euskaltel progress report

By Chris Dziadul

The Spanish cable operator Euskaltel’s new CEO José Miguel has “made a fast start with significant progress” in his first month.

In a summary, Euskaltel’s main shareholder says that the highlights include integrating three operating companies into one business; improving the customer proposition; and expanding nationally.

A new organisational structure is already in place, with key hires on board and a 25% reduction in the senior executive team. A new mobile offer has also been launched and product offerings across Euskaltel’s three brands are being harmonised for the first time. Euskaltel is now also well placed to compete in the 85% of Spanish households where it currently dos not compete.

Eamonn O’Hare, CEO of Zegona, said: “With José Miguel now running the Euskaltel business and our greater influence on the board, we are confident the company’s new direction will drive value for Zegona shareholders. In addition, I have no doubt our investors will benefit from incremental gains as the market reflects on Zegona’s recent positive broker coverage and addresses the almost 30% upside to our look-through value”.

IPTV to drive European pay-TV growth

By Chris Dziadul

Europe’s pay-TV market is expected to gain 17.7 million subscribers between 2019 and 2023.

This, according to Dataxis, will represent growth of 8.4%, bringing the total number of subscribers to almost 230 million in 2023.

Growth will be driven by IPTV (+13.1 million subscribers) and OTT (+6.6 million subscribers).

However, cable TV is expected to lose 4.6 million subscribers between this year and 2023.

Zegona strengthens Euskaltel board presence

By Chris Dziadul

Zegona has announced that it is making significant progress in its strategy to return the Spanish cable operator Euskaltel to growth.

A key component of that strategy is to increase its influence on the Euskaltel board and to that effect Robert Samuelson, Zegona’s COO, has been reappointed as Zegona’s second proprietary director on Euskaltel’s board at an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting held on July 10.

At that meeting, shareholders also ratified the earlier appointments of Eamonn O’Hare, Zegona’s chairman and CEO, to the Euskaltel board and Jose Miguel Garcia as the new CEO of Euskaltel.

Home & Garden TV Germany launches in HD at Vodafone

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Discovery Deutschland will launch an HD version of its new free-to-air TV channel Home & Garden TV (HGTV) on July 11, 2019.

The first distribution partner is Vodafone Deutschland: All GigaTV customers can receive the HD service on the cable network on channel slot 92.

With the move, the partners respond to the request of many viewers wanting to watch the programmes in HD quality, according to Discovery Deutschland. HGTV launched in Germany on June 6, 2019 and has so far only been available in SD resolution.

The HD carriage of HGTV is part of a new distribution agreement through which Discovery and Vodafone extend and expand their long-standing partnership, also in the pay-TV area. For example, Discovery Channel in HD and Eurosport 2 in both SD and HD will remain in the Premium HD Plus package as part of Vodafone’s add-on options. New OTT rights and extended video-on-demand (VOD) offers also form part of the agreement.

The four free-to-air TV channels DMAX, TLC, Eurosport 1 and HGTV are all available in SD and HD resolution, and Discovery will also provide more content on demand via the Vodafone catch-up service, including selected content in Ultra HD/4K.

“Our common goal is to provide viewers with the best possible choice of unique content, and the new agreement underscores this commitment,” said Thomas Bichlmeir, Director Distribution & Commercial Strategy at Discovery Deutschland. “With HGTV in HD as well as increasing and more diverse OTT and VOD opportunities, we can now offer Vodafone customers an even more compelling experience of the fascination of factual entertainment. I’m therefore very pleased about the expansion of our long-standing, successful cooperation.”

PΕΈUR expands cable radio line-up

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German cable operator P?UR has expanded its digital radio offer following the shutdown of analogue TV and radio distribution across its network.

With 96 radio channels, considerably more stations are now being carried than at analogue times. The offer, transmitted in DVB-C standard, includes new additions such as Radio Bob, radio B2, detektor.fm and lulu.fm.

The radio stations can be accessed via the TV set’s channel list or the digital cable receiver.

There are also special cable radio receivers, which allow the TV set to remain switched off when listening to radio or changing stations.

Unitymedia adds restart TV to further channels

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German cable operator Unitymedia is now offering the restart TV function on 45 further free-to-air TV channels.

The added channels include Tele 5, MTV, DMAX, Sport1, Eurosport, Comedy Central, Nick, TLC, Home & Garden TV and Deutsches Musik Fernsehen.

The function, which is available free of charge to users of TV and media platform Horizon, enables viewers to watch TV programmes that have already started from the beginning.

Unitymedia now provides restart TV on a total of 158 channels: The list of new and existing channels with the function can be downloaded here.

Telekom Srbija expansion continues

By Chris Dziadul

Telekom Srbija has acquired Telemark, the largest cable operator in western and central Serbia.

According to Kamatica, Telemark has over 25,000 TV and internet subscribers in Cacak, Kraljevo, Gornji Milanovac, Pozega, Lucani, Guca, Mionica, Ljig, Banja Vrujci, Mataruška Banja and Kosjeric.

Broadband TV News notes that Telekom Srbija embarked on a major expansion strategy, both in its home market and in neighbouring countries, last year.

Its acquistions to date include Kopernikus Technology, one of the leading operators in Serbia, and – through its local subsidiary – Telrad Net in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Polsat to hike channel fees

By Chris Dziadul

The Polish Association of Electronic Media and Telecommunications Employers (Mediakom) has warned of upcoming price increases by Telewizja Polsat for the distribution of its channels.

Quoting a statement from Mediakom, which represents small and medium-sized cable operators, Presserwis reports that they will see the cost of distributing the whole Polsat portfolio, minus Eleven Sports, more than double from PLN2 (€0.47) to PLN4.63 net per connection.

At the same time, Polsat has demanded that 24 of its 28 channels be included in cable operators’ basic packages.

Although there is the theoretical possibility for operators to buy channels on an a la carte basis, the cost of a package containing these channels will increase to PLN25.

Polsat is also retaining the right to increase the licensing fee by 5% a year.

Furthermore, in order to obtain the right to distribute Polsat’s FTA channels, operators will have to sign up to distribute at least one paid channel.

UPC Polska expands Giga service

By Chris Dziadul

Poland’s leading cable operator UPC Polska has launched its Giga services in seven more cities.

Having made their debut in Warsaw last year, they are now also available in Gdansk, Szczecin, Bydgoszcz, Wroclaw, Katowice, Czestochowa and Krakow.

They will also be rolled out to five more cities by the end of the summer, thereby covering over 2 million households.

Commenting on the development, Robert Redeleanu, CEO, UPC Polska, said: “Thanks to many years of investments in the development of a fibre-based network, we realise promises made to our clients – we are introducing a breakthrough gigabit speed in 12 cities in Poland, thanks to which it will reach 60% of households within the range of our network. Together with the best TV offer and service, it will allow us to strengthen our position as the market leader, continuing the strategy of delivering the highest speeds and the best Wi-Fi to our clients and consistently increasing their satisfaction.”.

Polish bundled services: the stats

By Chris Dziadul

Poland’s leading cable operators saw their shares of the bundled services market fall in 2018.

Data published by the Office of Electronic Communications (UKE) shows that UPC Polska claimed 7.5%, compared to 9.1% the previous year, while Vectra accounted for 3.9%, down from 5% in 2017. At the same time, Netia claimed 2.2% (2.8%) and Inea 1% (1.3%).

P4, the leading provider of bundled services in Poland in terms of customers, saw its share fall from 52.4% to 45.9%, while second placed Orange grew its from 12% to 13.3%. Polkomtel, up from 5.1% to 10,3%, and Cyfrowy Polsat, from 4.6% to 8.6%, also found themselves much better placed.

Looking at the Polish bundled services market as a whole, UKE says that over 77% of customers choosing such services in 2018 opted for double play, with 17.5% choosing triple, 5.1% quadruple and 0.02% quintuple play.

UPC Polska adds premium sport package

By Chris Dziadul

UPC Polska has introduced has introduced a new package that combines Polsat Sport Premium with Eleven Sports channels.

According to the operator, it is being offered to subscribers free of charge for the first two months, after which it will cost PLN19.99 (€4.69) a month.

The activation fee is PLN9.90, and all customers are required to enter into a 14-month agreement.

Polsat Sport Premium includes two sports channels in Super HD and four PPV services.

It offers all Champions League and some Europa League matches live, with access anywhere via Horizon Go.

Meanwhile, the three Eleven Sports channels include coverage of the leading Spanish, German and Italian football leagues.

Ziggo launches Mediabox Next, drops β€˜old’ Horizon

By Robert Briel

Following several months of beta-testing, Dutch cabler VodafoneZiggo has now launched the new cloud-based Mediabox Next, and is dropping the ‘old’ Horizon set-top box, which is called Mediabox XL in the Netherlands.

The new set-top will be delivered to all customers who buy one of the two top-tier subscriptions, Alles-in-1 Max and Alles-in-1 Complete. Mediabox Next is the cabler’s new 4k Ultra HD STB based on Liberty Global’s Horizon EOS 4-platform.

Liberty Global unveiled its next-generation TV entertainment platform, Horizon 4, at the company’s annual Tech Summit in Amsterdam in September 2018. The new STB features 4k, cloud PVR and voice control.

The new STB gives access ccess to linear TV, Replay and Video on Demand; and to apps such as Netflix and YouTube – all in up to 4K Ultra HD picture quality. Recordings will be stored in the cloud rather than on a local hard drive. Customers can record up to 400 hours in the cloud.

Manuel Cubero to leave Vodafone Deutschland

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Manuel Cubero will leave Vodafone Deutschland at the end of June 2019 and resign from all his mandates at Vodafone, Vodafone Kabel Deutschland and Kabel Deutschland Holding.

Reasons for the withdrawal were not given. As of July 1, Andreas Laukenmann will succeed Cubero as the new managing director of the consumer division.

“I would like to thank Manuel Cubero for his contribution to the success of the Gigabit company. He has had a decisive influence on the development of the consumer division and stands for the very good performance of the division in recent years,” said Vodafone Deutschland CEO Hannes Ametsreiter.

“Andreas Laukenmann is strengthening our management team in an exciting phase. Following the planned acquisition of Unitymedia, we will for the first time be able to offer both mobile and fixed-network telephony, Gigabit internet and TV from a single source throughout Germany. We will also market the first 5G products in future,” Ametsreiter added.

Laukenmann has been with the Vodafone Group for almost 15 years and was most recently responsible for the consumer product range of Vodafone Deutschland as division manager in marketing.

JosΓ© Miguel Garcia to head Euskaltel

By Chris Dziadul

José Miguel Garcia, Zegona’s proprietary director on the board of Spain’s Euskaltel, has been appointed Euskaltel’s CEO in place of Francisco Arteche.

Furthermore, Eamonn O’Hare, Zegona’s chairman and CEO, has been appointed as Zegona’s proprietary director on the Euskaltel Board.

As the largest shareholder in Euskaltel, Zegona has also requested an additional proprietary director position, and expects Robert Samuelson, Zegona’s COO, to be reappointed to the Euskaltel board in this capacity in due course.

Inea teams up with T-Mobile

By Chris Dziadul

The Polish cable operator Inea has signed a letter of intent with T-Mobile Polska.

Under it, Inea will open up its network to T-Mobile Polska on the BSA model to offer commercial services from Q3 this year.

Commenting on the development, Inea VP Michal Bartowiak said: “At Inea, we believe that open infrastructure is the future of the telecommunications industry, which is why we have been focusing on cooperation with other operators for a long time. T-Mobile Polska is the second nationwide service provider that will use our network. I am convinced that it will be a good cooperation for both parties, while customers will gain access to new services”.

Andreas Maierhofer, chairman of the board at T-Mobile Polska, added: ‘We are happy that thanks to establishing cooperation with another partner, Inea, we will be able to reach an even larger group of recipients with our fibre-optic offer and a comprehensive portfolio of home services.

“T-Mobile consistently implements its development strategy, changing from a mobile service operator into a technology company, a provider of the highest quality telecommunications solutions, and soon also content. Signing a letter of intent with INEA is another step in this direction”.

Verimatrix and Ocilion partner for secure IPTV delivery in Austria

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Video security solutions provider Verimatrix and IPTV technology company Ocilion have gained two large Austrian network operators as their latest customers.

Kabelplus and Salzburg AG have each selected IPTV solutions from Ocilion that are secured by Verimatrix, enabling flexible and future-proof video delivery models. Both operators opted for on-premise deployments hosted in their distinctive infrastructures, using Ocilion’s new P400 family of 4K set-top boxes (STBs). The adaptable technology supports various delivery models, whether hybrid, FTTH or OTT, while the integrated Verimatrix client supports digital rights management (DRM) for IP, IP/DVB-C and OTT.

“Kabelplus and Salzburg AG came to us with unique challenges and needs that will grow and evolve as consumer demands and security requirements continue to rapidly shift,” said Hans Kühberger, CEO of Ocilion. “We are very pleased to fulfil their demands for increasingly sophisticated modern and high-end IPTV services with our future-proof on-premise solution, including our new P400 family and resolve complex security requirements in partnership with Verimatrix.”

The decision for Kabelplus, the largest cable operator in Lower Austria and Burgenland, to launch its own IPTV product resulted from the need to extend its HFC network with extra products and services offering new premium features and bundling options, and it came during the middle of an FTTH deployment.

When live-only DVB-C delivery was no longer enough to support Salzburg AG’s consumer demands, the Salzburg energy, transport and telecommunications provider turned to Ocilion and Verimatrix to set the foundation for it to be able to offer premium service enhancements and maximise upselling opportunities with long-term adaptability.

With these deployments, the Austrian operators are also laying the foundation for secure UHD ecosystems with OcilionsP400 line of STBs having received the Verimatrix 4.0 ultra security certification. This certification emphasises their readiness to fully meet UHD security requirements, ensuring that they meet UHD content guidelines set by MovieLabs’ specifications for next-generation video and enhanced content protection.

“Achieving Ultra Security certification means that Ocilion’s advanced STBs are trusted to deliver premium content to Kabelplus and Salzburg AG consumers at the highest quality possible and in accordance with the strongest security requirements specified by premium rights holders,” said Verimatrix COO Steve Oetegenn. “Ultimately, the combined strengths of Ocilion and Verimatrix presents a formidable barrier against piracy in a form that can be updated readily to ensure these operators are able to keep pace with the evolving threat landscape.”