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Today β€” March 23rd 2019Broadband TV News: Cable

Discovery to launch Home & Garden TV in Germany

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Discovery will launch Home & Garden TV (HGTV) in Germany on June 6, 2019.

The channel, which shows programmes on topics such as house buying, renovating and interior design, will be offered as an unencrypted free-to-air channel via satellite and on the main cable networks, reports German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

“We show how professionals are passionate about buying, renovating and beautifying houses,” Susanne Aigner-Drews, managing director of Discovery in Germany, told the paper. “It is the genuine life, which we accompany with cameras.”

Initially, mainly US shows will be broadcast with German original productions planned in the second step.

After Eurosport, men’s channel DMAX and women’s channel TLC, HGTV will be Discovery’s fourth advertising-funded free-to-air TV channel in Germany.

Yesterday β€” March 22nd 2019Broadband TV News: Cable

Comcast launches Xfinity Flex IPTV platform

By Julian Clover

Comcast is launching a new IPTV-only service to its internet-only customers.

Xfinity Flex comes with a 4K HDR streaming TV device, complete with Comcast’s award-winning voice remote, a single interactive guide for accessing popular streaming video and music choices, as well as Comcast’s home Wi-Fi, mobile, security, and automation services.

“Xfinity Flex will deepen our relationship with a certain segment of our Internet customers and provide them with real value,” said Matt Strauss, executive vice president, Xfinity Services for Comcast Cable. “For just five dollars a month, we can offer these customers an affordable, flexible, and differentiated platform that includes thousands of free movies and shows for online streaming, an integrated guide for accessing their favorite apps and connected home devices, and the ease of navigating and managing all of it with our voice remote.”

Xfinity is backed by more than 10,000 free online movies and TV shows including live streamed channels from ESPN3, Xumo, Pluto TV, Tubi TV, Cheddar, YouTube, and more. There is also access to apps from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO, and Showtime.

Later, the full Xfinity X1 cable service will be available through the guide, which offers hundreds of live channels, tens of thousands of on demand titles, and a cloud DVR.

Before yesterdayBroadband TV News: Cable

EU regulators concerned at Liberty Global/Vodafone deal

By JΓΆrn Krieger

The European Commission is said to have strong concerns against the €18.4 billion cable deal between Liberty Global and Vodafone.

Vodafone will receive a warning from EU regulators about possible anti-competitive effects, reports Reuters with reference to two people familiar with the matter.

The warning, via a statement of objections setting out the European Commission’s concerns, is expected to be conveyed to the companies shortly, the sources said, ahead of a June 3, 2019 deadline for the EU executive’s regulatory approval.

Vodafone is likely to offer concessions addressing the competition authority’s concerns about the deal.

In December 2018, the European Commission decided to open a full-scale, in-depth investigation into Vodafone’s proposed acquisition of Liberty Global’s cable assets in Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. The EU authority is concerned that the takeover could reduce competition in Germany and the Czech Republic.

The takeover plans encountered strong opposition in the German telecommunications industry. Deutsche Telekom and Tele Columbus called for the deal to be blocked because of its negative impact on competition. Telefónica Deutschland and cable operator association FRK demanded strong conditions to be imposed.

Kabel-TV Lampert continues to rely on Zattoo for IPTV

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Austrian cable operator Kabel-TV Lampert will continue offering its IPTV service through Zattoo’s end-to-end solution.

The partnership has been extended by several years. The complete operation of the platform and the IPTV service remains in the hands of service provider Zattoo, which also ensures ongoing updates and further developments.

The service scope can be extended by additional reception devices and will in future include a marketing option for further network operators interested in a TV product, but not wanting to invest in their own hardware and software. For these operators, Kabel-TV Lampert and Zattoo will offer a fully hosted TV-as-a-service solution.

“One of the key reasons for Zattoo as a long-term partner is the company’s unique strength as an innovator. This is necessary to continuously improve our TV product and to deliver it to our customers, ensuring the highest quality,” said Karoline Lampert, managing director of Kabel-TV Lampert. “With Zattoo as our partner, we are ensuring our long-term competitiveness against the major communications groups.”

Zattoo gained Kabel-TV Lampert as the first Austrian customer for its white-label IPTV platform in 2015.

Volia launches Foxnow in Ukraine

By Chris Dziadul

Ukraine’s leading cable operator Volia has made the on demand service Foxnow available to its subscribers.

Foxnow offers the best movies and TV shows from the Fox and Fox Life channels and can be watched anytime, anywhere and in HD on several mobile devices. It is also available in the Volia TV mobile app.

Commenting on the launch, Viktoria Tsomaya, the marketing director at Volia, said: “The introduction of the innovative service Foxnow gives our subscribers of interactive services access to the best world premieres simultaneously with the whole world, as well as the ability to watch series, films and shows in both the original language and translated. It is a pleasure that we were the first in Ukraine to implement this project in accordance with world standards of quality, genre diversity and licensability, which became possible thanks to the long-standing partnership with Fox Networks Group, the world leader in the production of TV and movie products”.

Rodion Printsevsky, general manager of Fox Networks Group in Northern Europe, added: “With the launch of Foxnow’s online service, our company is doing even more so that Ukrainian viewers feel as an integral part of the global television audience. We are the first to offer Volia subscribers the best world serials at a convenient time and in the best quality, which are now also available anywhere with the mobile application Volia TV”.

Foxnow can be found in the extended package of Volia’s OTT service.

Purtel.com: OTT operators are β€œmodern robber barons”

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German service provider purtel.com calls for local cable and fibre-optic network operators to set up their own multiscreen TV and video-on-demand offers instead of just passing through OTT services such as Netflix or Amazon.

“Network investments can’t be refinanced by the ‘modern robber barony’ of OTT providers,” purtel.com managing director Dr Markus von Voss said in Munich. On the contrary: They threaten to destroy the investments of local network operators.

“The arguments put forward by free-riders such as ‘increase in competitiveness’ are lip service from operators in order to use externally financed infrastructures free of charge. This is to the considerable disadvantage of the local network operators and their investments,” warns von Voss.

Instead, he advises to focus on first-class original services, local content and closeness to customers – while maintaining the customer relationship.

Purtel.com offers a white-label platform for TV, internet and telephony used by over 90 network operators in Germany.

Polish cable challenges access proposals

By Chris Dziadul

The Polish Chamber of Electronic Communications (PIKE) has issued a strongly worded statement criticising draft proposals by the Office of Electronic Communications (UKE) that would open up the networks of the six leading cable operators to other parties.

According to PIKE, the negative effects of the draft proposals may affect up to 4.5 million households in Poland. If they come into force, customers will not be able to use the services of various operators providing TV, internet or telephony togther, and instead be forced to choose only one supplier. Investment in the development of high-speed internet is also at risk and the choice and diversity of services available to consumers will be limited.

PIKE notes that these proposals impose duties on only six selected cable operators, discrimating against these companies and the technology they employ. Furthermore, the publication of the draft decisions was not preceeded by market analyses as required by law.

There is also particular concern about the fact that UKE would impose expensive regulatory obligations on cable operators while deregulating the incumbent telco Orange. This may result in the remonopolisation of the market, restriction of competition and quality of services.

There is also a risk of loss of service continuity for existing customers. As a result of regulatory actions, they can be disconnected, either deliberately or accidentally. The effect of this may be to deprive many households of access to digital services.

Jerzy Straszewski, president of PIKE, said: “The currently proposed regulation of access to cables goes across infrastructural competition, degrades business models based on wholesale, commercial access to infrastructure, discourages investment in modern infrastructure and deepens infrastructural backwardness of our country, to the detriment of the entire economy. PIKE indicates that the proposed regulations will lead to the discrimination of cable operators, their clients and technology, and asks the president of UKE to call for a sound analysis of the effects of regulation and to give up far-reaching and harmful solutions for the market and consumers”.

As previously reported by Broadband TV News, UKE launched its consulation in January this year.

The proposals would affect Netia, UPC Polska, Multimedia Polska, Vectra Investments, Inea and Toya.

Ziggo replaces Stingray audio music channels with Xite

By Robert Briel

Dutch cable operator Ziggo will replace the 40 audio music channels from Stingray with a similar product from Dutch based Xite Music.

The change-over will take place on April 1, when Ziggo will start carrying 40 thematic music channels from Xite. The cabler already carries the video clip channel and the Mixer app from Xite.

The bouquet of audio channels is available to all basic cable TV subscribers.

The Stingray music TV channels, such as Stingray Classica (formerly Barva) and Djazz.tv, will remain on the network.

Xite’s Mixer app allows viewers to search, like, and skip through its catalogue; enjoy channels curated by its team of music experts; and create personalised channels based on genre, era and visual style using its Mixer feature. Xite claim to have access to virtually every available music video through agreements with all major and top independent music labels.

Stingray acquired the audio music channels in 2011 from Music Choice.

Salzburg AG chooses IPTV system from Ocilion

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Austrian cable operator Salzburg AG has opted for the IPTV system solution from Austrian service provider Ocilion.

Ocilion will provide Salzburg AG with an individual on-premises end-to-end system that is directly integrated into the existing infrastructure and hosted on site.

The IPTV platform, which extends the existing TV offer, includes the entire system environment, software, tablet and smartphone app in the network operator’s design as well as 4K receivers.

The project is already in the implementation phase and should become available to customers in the course of 2019.

Salzburg AG supplies the federal state of Salzburg and parts of Styria with multimedia services, and has more than 130,000 TV customers.

Virgin Media launches Intelligent WiFi

By Julian Clover

Virgin Media has announced a series of updates to WiFi customers designed to improve broadband reception within the home.

Known as Intelligent WiFi, the improvements are already available to Hub 3 customers and delivered through a cloud-based system.

Virgin says speeds have been improved by to three times as many devices without the aid of a booster. Virgin’s new connect app acts as the central control panel for Intelligent WiFi. Where a blackspot is discovered, additional Wifi boosters can be ordered at a cost of £3 per month, free to VIP customers.

Richard Sinclair MBE, Executive Director of Connectivity, Virgin Media, said: “Delivering ultrafast broadband to help make Britain faster is what we do best at Virgin Media, but making sure this translates into reliable in-home connectivity is just as important. Intelligent WiFi will allow our customers to make the most of their broadband while also helping to easily overcome any connectivity conundrums around the home.”

Included within Intelligent WiFi’s features is Channel Optimisation helps ensure connected devices and gadgets are performing as best as they can. Band Steering prompts gadgets and devices to seamlessly switch between a 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency to optimise performance. Virgin says that band steering has increased the number of devices moving to 5Hz frequencies by 25%.

Swiss 3 Plus Group to launch new TV channel 6+

By JΓΆrn Krieger

With 6+, Swiss TV group 3 Plus will launch its fourth TV channel after 3+, 4+ and 5+ on March 27, 2019.

The advertising-supported channel will show free-TV debuts of series such as The Blacklist, blockbuster movies like Bad Teacher, After Earth, Captain Phillips and new titles of the James Bond franchise, documentaries such as Asphalt Cowboys as well as original productions.

6+ will also become 3 Plus Group’s laboratory for new, innovative forms of advertising.

The free-to-air TV channel will be distributed as part of the digital offers of local cable and IPTV operators UPC, Swisscom TV, Digital Cable Group and Sunrise, among others.

As with 3+, 4+ and 5+, the advertising slots will be marketed by long-standing partner Goldbach Media (Switzerland).

Ziggo names cloud Horizon STB Mediabox Next

By Robert Briel

Dutch operator Ziggo will be introducing the new 4k Ultra HD STB based on Liberty Global’s Horizon EOS 4-platform and names it Mediabox Next.

Last week, VodafoneZiggo said it would start to roll out the new platform in Q1 after testing the platform with a small number of beta customers.

Liberty Global has unveiled its next-generation TV entertainment platform, Horizon 4, at the company’s annual Tech Summit in Amsterdam in September. 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,

In order to provide 4K content for the new platform, VodafoneZiggo has started distributing Love Nature UHD on its network on a test basis.

VodafoneZiggo to launch 4K next-gen TV platform in Q1

By Robert Briel

VodafoneZiggo, the JV between Liberty Global and Vodafone in The Netherlands has a said that its consumer cable revenue decreased by 1% in Q4 and 1.5% in the full year 2018.

The €4 million decline in Q4 was the net result of a price increase implemented in July, an increase in converged discounts, a reduction in telephony and video-on-demand usage, and lower average RGUs YoY.

Internet and enhanced video RGUs declined by 2,000 and 9,000, respectively, in Q4 due to increased competition. In total, we added 18,000 new broadband customers in FY 2018. Q4 consumer cable ARPU10 increased 1% YoY to €47

110,000 new Ziggo Mediabox XL customers were added in FY 2018 (18,000 in Q4), bringing total penetration of its enhanced video base to 42%. During FY 2018, 300,000 new customers downloaded and actively used Ziggo Go (the vmulti-screen video app). In total, the app reached 1.5 million active users by the end of Q4.

The company also said its new 4K next-generation TV entertainment platform is planned for launch in Q1 2019, this is the cloud-based Horizon platform.

The combination of mobile and fixed seems to have positive effects: there is growth in the number of customers purchasing both fixed and mobile subscriptions from VodafoneZiggo. Currently, 32% of the customers do so. At Ziggo, the number of customers who also purchased a mobile subscription from Vodafone grew by 183,000 in 2018. Conversely, 294,000 Vodafone customers also bought fixed subscriptions from Ziggo last year.

The JV is actively promoting combining mobile and fixed subscriptions by offering ‘free’ double data bundles and extended TV offers including premium channels including Fox Sports en Ziggo Sport Totaal.

In a related development, Ziggo cable is now terminating analogue TV distribution in the province of Gelderland.

Euskaltel expansion continues

By Chris Dziadul

The Spanish cable operator Euskaltel ended 2018 with 416,718 TV RGUs, equivalent to 72.4% of its fixed customer base.

This, according to the latest results published by the company, was up from 393,356 (68.4%) a year earlier. Meanwhile, its broadband subscriber total at the end of 2018 stood at 497,135 (488,708) and fixed voice subscriber total at 516,169 (527,908).

Global ARPU for fixed customers was €59.93 in Q4, compared to €59.99 a year earlier.

Euskaltel’s revenues in Q4 amounted to €170.5 million, with residential accounting for €114.8 million and business €46.5 million of the total.

This was down from the €178.2 million posted a year earlier, with EBITDA also falling from €87.6 million to €83.6 million over the same period.

Net income in Q4 was €16.3 million, compared to €16.7 million a year earlier.

However, for the year as a whole net income amounted to €62.8 million, a 26.6% increase on 2017.

Liberty embraces huge changes

By Chris Dziadul

Liberty Global lost 32,500 RGUs in the fourth quarter of 2018, with gains by Virgin Media and its continuing CEE operations more than offset by losses in Belgium and Switzerland.

Losses were most pronounced in the video sector, the 74,900 posted by the company in its latest set of results being over twice as much as the 31,600 loss in Q4 2017. Although there was a gain in data RGUs in Q4 2018 (+24,800), it was lower than the 42,700 posted a year earlier. Voice, on the other hand, moved from a loss of 7,400 to a gain of 17,600 over the same period. Meanwhile, revenues from continuing operations amounted to $2,949.1 million in Q4 2018, down 1.2% on the same period in 2017.

Losses were most keenly felt in Switzerland (-5.8% to $325.6 million) and continuing CEE operations (-5% to $119.1 million).

In the discontinued European operations revenues fell by year-on-year 10.3% to $894.7 million in Q4 2018. Operating cash flow in the remaining operations was $1,301.6 million in Q4 (+0.9%) and $554.1 million (-8.9%) in the discontinued ones. Liberty’s net earnings in Q4 amounted to $25.1 million, compared to a loss of $992 million a year earlier.

In his comments on the results, Liberty CEO Mike Fries said: “The past fourteen months have been transformational for Liberty Global. After two decades of buying, building and growing world-class cable operations in Europe, we have announced or completed transactions in six of our twelve markets at premium valuations. Together these deals represent an aggregate enterprise value of $31 billion and net cash proceeds to the company, when completed, of $16 long been our ambition to create or enable national champions, and we couldn’t be more proud of these fixed-mobile combinations, which will challenge incumbents, accelerate innovation and benefit customers for years to come.

“After these transactions, in addition to a strategic investment portfolio and over $2 billion in net tax assets, we will continue to be the largest cable operator in the U.K., Ireland, Belgium, Poland and Slovakia. Together our operations serve 23 million RGUs and generate $11 billion of annual revenue. We also serve another 10 million RGUs and generate over $4 billion of annual revenue in The Netherlands through our 50/50 JV with Vodafone. Each of these businesses is entering a new period of reduced capital intensity and meaningful operating free cash flow (“OFCF”) growth.

“Also, in connection with the changing scope of our business, we initiated a broader reorganisation plan in January, which will result in a leaner operating structure. As we move through the year, we will have further updates on this initiative”.

Unitymedia rolls out Gigabit internet to further cities

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German cable operator Unitymedia now also offers internet access with a data rate of up to 1Gbps in Mannheim and Heilbronn.

With the latest additions, the high-speed service based on the DOCSIS 3.1 is now available to a total of almost 1.5 million people across Unitymedia’s coverage area.

“The hunger for bandwidth continues. On average, the data consumption of a Unitymedia customer was more than twice as high as the average consumption of German users,” Unitymedia CEO Winni Rapp said in Cologne. “Only cable offers millions of people reliable access to these superior speeds. Cable is the first choice for the transition into the Gigabit society.”

In 2018, Unitymedia recorded 211,000 new internet, telephony and TV subscriptions, 65,000 of which were acquired in Q4 2018. As of December 31, 2018, 7.2 million customers booked nearly 13.3 million TV, internet and telephony services from Unitymedia.

Revenues in 2018 rose by 6% year-on-year to €2.5 billion.

Please also see our coverage of the Q4 2018 financial results of Unitymedia’s parent company Liberty Global.

Virgin builds 500,000 Lightening homes

By Julian Clover

Virgin Media’s renewed build of UK cable has resulted in a significant increase in customers in the 4th quarter.

The Liberty Global operator added 481,000 premises in 2018 under its Project Lightening, taking total new build to 1.6 million. 144,000 were added in the quarter, leading to 24,000 customer additions, from 8,000 in the corresponding quarter.

As at December 31, 2018, Virgin Media has 14.7 million broadband customers, 5.9 million video and fixed-line telephony services to 5.9 million cable customers and 3.1 million mobile subscribers.

It’s latest price rise has led to a growth in ARPU of 2% to £51.71.

12-month rolling customer churn was 15.1%.

SPI secures carriage on net+ in Switzerland

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Swiss cable platform net+ will continue to distribute SPI International’s channels FilmBox Arthouse, DocuBox HD and Fast&FunBox HD.

“We are happy to announce that we have renewed the distribution agreement we started in 2016,” said Georgina Twiss, managing director Western Europe and Africa at SPI International. “Switzerland is an important territory for us and net+ is a valued partner.”

netplus.ch SA brings together 12 networks which provide TV, internet, telephony and mobile services to more than 220,000 households and companies in French-speaking Switzerland. The collaboration with SPI International started in 2016 and marked the launch of localised French-language versions of the channels.

Sunrise to acquire UPC Switzerland from Liberty Global

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Swiss telecommunications company Sunrise has agreed to acquire cable operator UPC Switzerland, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Liberty Global, for an enterprise value of CHF6.3 billion (€5.5 billion).

With the transaction, Sunrise wants to reinforce its position as the second-largest market player in mobile, TV, broadband and fixed-line telephony after Swisscom and as the incumbent telco’s leading converged challenger.

“Today’s announcement is an important milestone for Sunrise, our customers, employees and shareholders. Together with UPC Switzerland, we will create a stronger, truly converged challenger and significant value for our shareholders,” said Olaf Swantee, CEO of Sunrise. “We are committed to accelerating innovation and enhancing customers’ experience, building on the enlarged scale of the combined business and superior next generation network infrastructure.”

Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, said: “Today’s announcement further validates our strategy of building or enabling national champions in our core European markets. After 13 years of investment, innovation and growth, UPC Switzerland will combine with Sunrise to form a strong challenger in the Swiss market. This is a great moment for the Swiss consumer as network quality, product innovation and customer experience is at the heart of both companies. We are extremely proud of what we have achieved in this market, and are thrilled for our shareholders who will benefit from yet another example of value creation. After an investment of $1.6 billion in 2005, we will have realised at closing $6.5 billion of dividends and equity proceeds, or nearly four times our capital in this market.”

Severina Pascu, CEO of UPC Switzerland, added: “Today’s agreement will lead to a new fully converged national challenger on the Swiss market. The merger of the two entities will drive further investments and more innovation for the benefit of Swiss residential and business customers.”

Eric Tveter, chairman of UPC Switzerland, said: “We are very proud of the many successes we have achieved since Liberty Global’s acquisition of Cablecom in 2005. The combination of the two companies will now create a unique challenger in the communication and entertainment business.”

UPC is Switzerland’s leading cable operator with access to 2.3 million homes (60% of total Swiss homes), serving 1.1 million customers. With more than 3 million customers, Sunrise is a strong player in the mobile market, and also offers TV, internet and fixed-line telephony.

The takeover comes as no surprise following Sunrise’s confirmation that it is in “advanced negotiations” with Liberty Global regarding the acquisition of UPC Switzerland.

The transaction is subject to regulatory clearance which Sunrise anticipates to receive in the second or third quarter of 2019. The closing is expected to take place during the second half of 2019. The combined business will continue to be called Sunrise and to be listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange.

Liberty Global has been favourable towards consolidation in the Swiss market with its total of four full service providers Swisscom, Sunrise, UPC and Salt, and discussions with Sunrise regarding a combination of their assets in Switzerland have been going on for a while.

The decision to exit Switzerland is in line with Liberty Global’s recent moves to sell its cable subsidiaries in Austria, in Germany and Eastern European countries and its DTH satellite operations in Central and Eastern Europe.

UPC Switzerland: Sunrise in β€œadvanced discussions” with Liberty Global

By JΓΆrn Krieger

The possible acquisition of Liberty Global’s Swiss cable operator UPC Schweiz by Swiss telecommunications company Sunrise Communications Group is further taking shape.

Sunrise confirms in a statement that it is in “advanced discussions” with Liberty Global regarding a possible acquisition of UPC Switzerland for an enterprise value of CHF6.3 billion (€5.5 billion).

In early February 2019, Sunrise already confirmed that it is holding takeover discussions with Liberty Global regarding its wholly owned Swiss business, but it is the first time that Sunrise has mentioned financial details of the possible transaction.

Sunrise stresses that, as previously stated, it will only pursue a transaction if it is strategically compelling and demonstrably value creative for its shareholders, adding that in the event of a transaction, Sunrise is committed to a prudent capital structure and to retaining its existing progressive dividend policy.

No final decision has been made, states Sunrise. A further announcement will be made if and when appropriate, according to the company.

Liberty Global has been favourable towards consolidation in the Swiss market with its total of four full service providers, and discussions with Sunrise regarding a combination of their assets in Switzerland have been going on for a while.

Exiting Switzerland would be in line with Liberty Global’s recent moves to sell its cable subsidiaries in Austria, in Germany and Eastern European countries and its DTH satellite operations in Central and Eastern Europe.