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Before yesterdayBroadband TV News: Cable

Virgin Media lets customers track their technician

By Julian Clover

Virgin Media is launching a new service that will allow customers to see how far their technician is from reaching them.

The location technology provided by Glympse as part of a wider rollout through parent company Liberty Global. It is already used by operators such as Sky, Rogers, Charter and Verizon; as well as in the motor industry where it has been adopted by Ford, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.

Neil Bartholomew, Executive Director, Consumer Customer Operations at Virgin Media said: “We know that waiting at home for a technician can be frustrating, even more so when you don’t know when they will actually get to you. Customer expectations are always increasing and this powerful new tool will provide clear, simple and transparent information to help our customers plan their day better and make it as easy as possible to get on with their busy lives.”

Initially Virgin customers in Liverpool, Guildford and the Cotswolds will have access to the service ahead of a wider rollout in the autumn. They’ll be able to keep track of their technician through real-time updates on their smart phone, tablet or computer.

Alex Read, Europe Director at Glympse said: “We are delighted that Virgin Media are using our platform to further raise the bar in customer experience, and bring customers and technicians closer together to make missed appointments a thing of the past. Our innovative digital platform gives Virgin Media customers the most up-to-date information about their appointment in a convenient and easy to use way, eliminating the pain of waiting but not knowing when a technician will arrive.”

The technology can reduce the number of missed appointments by up to 10 per cent and has been welcomed by customers and technicians who use it around the world.

Liberty seeks JV with Vector

By Chris Dziadul

Dutch-registered LGI Ventures and Gdynia-based Vector have lodged an application with the Polish competition authority UOKiK to set up a joint venture.

In a notification, the UOKiK says the joint venture will conduct activities in the field of development of technical solutions for fixed access networks.

Vector provides dedicated solutions in access network infrastructure, while LGI Ventures is part of Liberty Global, which owns Poland’s largest cable operator UPC Polska.

As previously reported by Broadband TV News>, earlier this summer Liberty Global selected solutions from Vector to help roll out its services across Europe.

Vectra buys Jambox operator SGT

By Chris Dziadul

Poland’s second largest cable operator Vectra has acquired a majority (66.5%) stake in SGT, a company which operates under the brand name Jambox and provides pay-TV channels to ISPs.

According to Rzeczpospolita, the transaction was worth PLN34.89 (€8.10) per share, valuing a 100% stake in SGT at PLN73.3 million.

Quoting Vectra’s president Tomasz Zuranski, it adds that the transaction will see IPTV added to its business portfolio.

SGT has capital links with Grupa 3S, a company that builds fibre networks and provides telecom services, but is autonomous.

It will retain its name, as will Jambox.

All told, the latter offers pay-TV services to 287 ISPs serving over 55,000 subscribers.

Kabelplus chooses Ocilion for IPTV platform

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Austrian cable operator Kabelplus has selected Ocilion’s IPTV system solution for its new premium TV offer.

The Austrian IPTV service provider will equip Kabelplus with an IPTV carrier solution tailored to its needs which will be hosted as an on-premises end-to-end system directly on its own network and integrated into the existing infrastructure.

The TV offer will include add-on functions such as replay TV, a video store and apps for smartphones and tablets.

“With Kabelplus, we have won the leading network operator in Lower Austria and Burgenland for our IPTV system solution,” said Hans Kühberger, managing director of Ocilion IPTV Technologies. “With our 4K end-devices, TV apps and content cooperations, we are composing a future-proof IPTV product fitting seamlessly into Kabelplus’ business model and product world. The attractive offer will certainly excite current Kabelplus customers and convince many new customers.”

QVC UHD launches on German cable

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German teleshopping channel QVC Deutschland can now also be received in Ultra HD quality on cable.

wilhelm.tel and willy.tel are the first cable operators carrying the channel. Around 300,000 cable customers in the Hamburg and Norderstedt region can receive QVC UHD, further cable networks are to follow.

QVC UHD launched in December 2017 for DTH satellite households on Astra (19.2° East).

Telia snaps up Get and TDC Norway

By Chris Dziadul

Telia Company has acquired Get and TDC Norway for a combined enterprise value of NOK21 billion (€2.2 billion) on a cash and debt free basis.

The transaction, which is subject to approval from the relevant authorities, is expected to be completed in the second half of this year.

The Danish operator TDC’s Norwegian business encompasses Get, which has a total of 518,000 households and businesses connected to its fibre-based network, and more than 1 million private and business customers who use its TV and broadband services on a daily basis. TDC’s B2B business in Norway is also part of the transaction.

Commenting on the acquisition, Johan Dennelind, president and CEO of Telia Company, said: “It is with great excitement and commitment that we announce the agreement to acquire Get and TDC Norway. It will create a leading convergent operator for both consumers and enterprises in Norway which can compete in the market with a lot of attractive and new products and services. This transaction is beneficial for the Norwegian customers and society. We are building a great company with passionate employees where we have invested heavily in our mobile network which now covers 98 percent of the country. As part of Telia Company, Get will continue to invest in the rollout of broadband and fibre”.

He added: “We have a history of successful acquisitions in Norway and I am fully confident that this transaction will be no exception. I’m very much looking forward to welcoming Get’s and TDC Norway’s employees and customers to Telia Company”.

In 2017, Get and TDC Norway reported revenues of NOK4 billion and EBITDA of NOK1.7 billion.

The acquisition is estimated to incur integration costs of NOK200 million in both 2019 and 2020.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch, LionTree Advisors, EY and Simonsen Vogt Wiig acted as advisors to Telia Company in connection to the transaction.

Com Hem: Early signs of convergence

By Julian Clover

The CEO of Com Hem says the cable operator has witnessed saw a higher level of activity from competitors focussed on fixed-mobile bundles.

Anders Nilsson, CEO, Com Hem Group said the emphasis was on adding value to customers rather than discounting. “We believe that this natural development in the market will reduce the overall market churn and make pricing more resilient. This makes the upcoming merger with Tele2 even more timely as we aim to drive this trend in the Swedish market. Together with Tele2 we will have the additional tools and scale needed to amplify the more-for-more strategy which has underpinned the growth in Com Hem over the last few years.”

Nilsson added that with the integration of Boxer complete the company would now focus ion its boxless TV-offering to turn it into its main product in the future.

Com Hem reported a Q2 increase in group revenues of 1.1% to SEK 1,815m with Com Hem Segment increasing by 3.5% to SEK 1,411m.

Subscribers numbers grew by 5,000 to a record high of 992,000. Broadband also grew by 8,000 to its own record high of 765,000 RGUs. Digital TV RGUs increased by 1,000 to 654,000, while churn decreased to 12.8%, down 2 percentage points on the last quarter.

DTT service Boxer continues to struggle with churn, though this too declined to 16.6% from 19.3% in the previous quarter. The decline in RGUs also slowed, falling by 7,000, compared to 9,000 in the past quarter.

Com Hem has also pubished re-audited financial statements for the merger with Tele2.

European Commission approves sale of UPC Austria to T-Mobile Austria

By JΓΆrn Krieger

The European Commission has unconditionally approved the acquisition of cable operator UPC Austria by mobile network operator T-Mobile Austria, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.

The Commission concluded that the transaction would raise no competition concerns as the companies’ activities and assets are largely complementary. UPC’s main activities are related to fixed-line telecommunications while T-Mobile is mainly active in mobile telecommunications.

The Commission examined the impact of the proposed transaction in the limited number of markets in the fixed and mobile telecommunications sector in Austria where the activities of both companies overlap. In particular, they are both active in the provision of internet access services for residential customers.

However, the Commission found that the impact of the transaction on this market is likely to be limited, considering in particular that UPC’s fixed internet access products differ considerably from T-Mobile’s mobile broadband products. These products differ both in terms of the underlying technology and product characteristics and as a result are not closely competing, according to the competition authority.

The Commission also found that the merged entity would continue to face significant competition from other players such as the incumbent A1 Telekom Austria and Hutchison Drei Austria.

Additionally, the Commission examined a number of vertical and conglomerate relationships in the fixed and mobile telecommunications markets in Austria arising as a result of the transaction, in particular concerning bundled multiple play services. The Commission concluded that the merged entity would not be able to use its market power to shut out or marginalise its fixed or mobile competitors by bundling fixed and mobile products.

Therefore, the Commission concluded that the transaction would raise no competition concerns in any of the affected telecoms markets and cleared the case unconditionally.

The purchase of UPC Austria, the country’s largest cable operator, for around €1.9 billion from parent company Liberty Global was announced in December 2017. Through the acquisition, T-Mobile will gain a strong foothold in the fixed-line market, enabling the company to offer quadruple play products to its customers: TV, internet, fixed-line telephony and mobile services.

Czech welcome for US, Liberty Global/Vodafone deals

By Chris Dziadul

The Czech Association of Electronic Communications (CAEK) has welcomed both the upcoming AT&T/Time Warner merger and the recent agreement between Liberty Global and Vodafone.

Speaking to Broadband TV News, Zdenek Vanicek, chairman of the association at CAEK, said that the former, once it receives regulatory approval in the US, will noticeably strengthen the profile and performance of the video part of Czech electronic communications from 2019 onwards.

Meanwhile, the Vodafone/Liberty Global deal may soon affect the Czech electronic communications industries significantly and the CAEK believes it is a powerful step forward in the right direction.

The CAEK represents both the telecom and media/cable TV industries in the Czech Republic.

It is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and will hold a jubilee conference in Prague on November 21.

Enrique Rodriguez joins Liberty Global

By Chris Dziadul

Liberty Global has appointed Enrique Rodriguez as its executive VP and CTO.

The former CEO of TiVo, he will take up his new role in late July.

Commenting on the appointment, Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, said: “Enrique is a seasoned executive who will hit the ground running on day one. In today’s technology environment the best CTOs have worked across sectors, platforms and geographies. Enrique has C-level experience as an engineer, software developer and operator. He has managed multi-billion dollar businesses for companies like AT&T, Microsoft, Cisco and Thomson, and has a long history in digital television as well as the European broadband sector. As head of Microsoft’s Connected TV business, he launched IPTV solutions for telecommunication companies around the world, including many of our competitors. More recently, at AT&T, he was responsible for the teams that developed and launched DIRECTV’s successful OTT service, DIRECTV Now. I’m particularly excited to tap into Enrique’s knowledge of video products and platforms as we ramp up innovation in our TV business. He’s the right leader at the right time for Liberty Global.”

Rodriguez will lead Liberty Global’s Technology & Innovation (T&I) team of more than 7,500 employees, with an annual operating and capital budget of more than $5 billion.

He said: “This is an exciting time to join Liberty Global. It is one of the few companies in our sector with international scale, a long-term commitment to technology leadership, and a track record of consistent growth and value creation. Mike and his team are first class operators and I look forward to accelerating product innovation and building the network capacity that European consumers want and demand.”

Baptiest Coopmans, who has served as acting CTO since January, will remain with the company to ensure a seamless transition for Rodriguez and will assume the position of senior VP, operations.

Fries continued: “I want to thank Baptiest for his leadership as interim CTO since we appointed Balan Nair to lead Liberty Global Latin America in January. You can’t stand still in today’s TV and broadband marketplace and thanks to Baptiest, we’ve successfully marched forward. He will continue to report to me as our senior VP of operations focused on helping me optimise our organisational model and operational effectiveness.”

VG Media and Tele Columbus resolve royalty dispute

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German royalty collection society VG Media and cable operator Tele Columbus have reached an out-of-court settlement.

This means that all court and arbitration proceedings currently pending between subsidiaries of the cable company and the rights exploitation organisation are settled on an amicable basis, VG Media announced in Berlin.

This also applies to the settlement of further claims of VG Media against Tele Columbus and its subsidiaries. No information was given on the details of the agreement.

VG Media is the copyright society of commercial broadcasters and press publishers. It represents the royalty and intellectual property rights of almost all German and several international commercial TV and radio broadcasters as well as around 200 digital offerings of major publishing houses.

First Polish football club channel closes

By Chris Dziadul

The Polish cable operator Inea has ceased cooperating with the Ekstraklasa (Premier League) club Lech Poznan.

During a five-year agreement between the two parties, which expired at the end of June, Inea produced Lech TV, Poland’s first-ever TV channel dedicated to a football club.

Inea says that the channel has now been rebranded Inea Stadion and will show a variety of sport, including speedway.

Inea Stadion will be produced by WTK, a subsidiary of Inea that also produces a TV channel of the same name and owns the site epoznan.pl.

Belgian regulator keeps cable open, adds fibre

By Robert Briel

After the green light from the European Commission, the Belgian regulators combined in CRC have paved the way for more competition in the broadband and broadcasting markets.

Measures, such as further opening of all networks (including optical fibre), lowering the wholesale tariffs, new access conditions (e.g. “internet only”) and an incentive to invest in the white spots should further intensify competition in these markets.

The CRC (the Conference of telecommunications and media regulators, i.e. BIPT, the CSA, the Medienrat and the VRM) concludes that Proximus, Telenet, Brutélé and Nethys continue to have significant market power in the wholesale market, and must remain open to third parties requesting access. The regulators also require open access on the new fibre networks from Proximus.

“By allowing access to the networks of Proximus and the cable operators, the CRC creates a positive dynamic: users can choose among several providers and operators are encouraged to compete by lowering prices, improving their service quality and/or launching new services,” according to the CRC.

The decision reduces wholesale prices , in some cases by as much as 20%, starting from August 2018.

Moreover, access conditions are improved in a variety of ways: cable operators are obliged to give access to a stand-alone broadband service, without the television service; as a result it will be possible that new broadband-only offers emerge on the cable networks at the retail level. Under the earlier CRC decision, cable operators only had to provide access to a joint broadband and television resale offer; Proximus and the cable operators must provide quality of service guarantees at the wholesale level, enabling alternative operators to offer services tailored specifically to the needs of SMEs; and cable operators are also required to make it possible for alternative operators to provide voice telephony services via the regulated access. This should allow alternative operators.

The measures taken bij the CRC follow comments from the European Commission.

The regulator assessed the competitive conditions on the retail broadband and broadcasting markets. It found that the market shares are distributed among a limited number of operators and that prices are above competitive levels. The regulator concludes therefore that it is necessary to impose wholesale regulation on the main operators active in the market – Proximus, and the regional cable operators Telenet, Nethys and Brutélé (the two latter operate at retail level under the ‘VOO’ brand) – to tackle these competition problems.

ER Telecom targets business market

By Chris Dziadul

The Russian cable operator ER Telecom has launched a new IPTV service named Business TV.

According to TelecomDaily and AKTR, it forms part of its B2B offer Dom.ru Business and consists of 60 TV channels, costing R600 (€8.2) a month.

Customers can in addition order up to eight thematic channel packages, with ER Telecom also able to provide them with a TV set for the duration of their contract.

The operator expects to in due course add interactive features to Business TV and to also make it more widely available in the country.

Other pay-TV operators also active in the Russian B2B sector include Tricolor TV and Rostelecom.

Lutz SchΓΌler to move to Virgin Media from Unitymedia

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Lutz Schüler, currently CEO of German cable operator Unitymedia, will become Chief Operating Officer of UK cable company Virgin Media from September 10, 2018.

At Unitymedia Schüler will be replaced by current Chief Financial Officer Winfried ‘Winni’ Rapp. Both Unitymedia and Virgin Media are subsidiaries of Liberty Global.

“For the past eight years Lutz has done an outstanding job running our operations in Germany and creating significant value for Liberty Global. Since our initial acquisitions in 2009 and 2010, Unitymedia has grown revenue 60% and operating cash flow 80%, and has led the market in broadband innovation,” said Mike Fries, President and CEO of Liberty Global.

“With the pending sale of our German business to Vodafone, Virgin Media takes on greater importance within our platform in Europe and we want the strongest team possible driving this business. I couldn’t be happier to keep Lutz in the Liberty family,” added Fries.

Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media, commented: “I’m excited to have Lutz join the Virgin Media team. His track record in Germany as an operator speaks for itself and he will provide a new level of marketing energy and leadership that will benefit Virgin Media customers and employees.”

Schüler said: “I’m thrilled to join the Virgin Media team and work alongside Tom. As I embrace this new challenge, I know that Unitymedia will be in strong, capable hands under Winni’s leadership. He is committed to our customers, to our employees and to the communities we serve.”

Rapp added: “Taking the reins at Unitymedia at this critical time is a great honour. If you want to see the future of the TV and broadband business you need to look no further than Unitymedia. I will continue our proud tradition of innovation and our customers will be well served when Unitymedia and Vodafone join forces. This is an exciting time for our customers and employees.”

Schüler will take over the role that was vacated in March 2018 and has been filled in the interim by two leaders of Virgin Media’s UK Consumer Division, Jeff Dodds and Neil Bartholomew. Both will retain their roles heading the Mobile and Customer Operations, respectively, when Schüler joins in September.

In May 2018 Liberty Global announced the sale of its operations in Germany, as well as three other Eastern European markets, to Vodafone for €18.4 billion. Schüler will be appointed chairman of Unitymedia’s supervisory board to ensure continuity through the conclusion of the regulatory approval process, expected to occur in mid-2019. The current chairman, Diederik Karsten, will remain on the supervisory board.

Virgin Ireland reaches broadband milestone

By Julian Clover

Virgin Media Ireland says its fibre broadband network has now passed more than 900,000 premises, with a further due to be built.

The milestone was marked by Minister for Communications, Denis Naughten TD at a presentation in Arklow, Co. Wicklow.

“Broadband is an essential service for our society and economic growth and Virgin Media has been at the forefront of fibre broadband investments in Ireland,” said Naughten. “This investment is helping us to address our European digital agenda targets, stimulate healthy competition in the sector while benefiting families, customers and businesses in towns and cities throughout the country.”

Over the past two years Virgin’s Project Lightning has helped increase the cablenet’s footprint by 100,000 new homes and businesses. It’s expected to reach 1 million homes within the next two years.

“The multi-million euro investment we have made in Arklow and Wicklow town brings Ireland’s fastest broadband network to these two vibrant and growing towns,”said Tony Hanway, CEO, Virgin Media. “Households connecting to Virgin Media will benefit from Ireland’s fastest broadband and in-home Wi-Fi, with speeds reaching 360Mbps.”

The specific build in Arklow and Wicklow has involved a €10 million local investment in Virgin Media’s high capacity network in the towns including the laying of some 75 kilometres of fibre and the establishment of free public Wi-Fi services in each town.

FRK takes anti-trust action against ARD/ZDF in carriage fee row

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German cable operator association FRK wants to achieve that small and medium-sized cable operators receive carriage fees from public broadcasters ARD and ZDF just like the two largest players Vodafone and Unitymedia.

FRK accuses ARD and ZDF of unequal treatment as the broadcasters are unwilling to pay carriage fees to smaller cable companies and has announced to take the case to the Federal Cartel Office.

“It is not acceptable that public broadcasters abuse their market power and deny SMATV operators and small and medium-sized cable companies the payment of fees they grant to the two dominant cable operators,” said FRK chairman Heinz-Peter Labonte.

As an out-of-court agreement could not be reached between FRK and the public broadcasters, the association will now have this practice reviewed by the Federal Cartel Office with the support of law firm Schalast.

The move follows the end of the long-standing carriage fee dispute between ARD and ZDF and the two major cable operators Vodafone (formerly Kabel Deutschland) and Unitymedia. In the settlements announced in April 2018, the parties agreed on new, long-term partnerships for cable distribution and the addition of HD channels and catch-up content from the public broadcasters to their line-up. According to Vodafone, the agreements with ARD and ZDF include carriage fees for the cable distribution of the regular, linear channels.

As part of the settlements, ARD and ZDF pay Vodafone €100 million while ARD pays Unitymedia €31.2 million in compensation for unpaid carriage fees during the legal dispute. No agreement is yet in place between ZDF and Unitymedia with the legal case continuing.

FRK represents almost 140 small and medium-sized cable operators as well as infrastructure providers serving a total of more than five million households in Germany with cable TV.

UPC Romania to continue expanding

By Chris Dziadul

The strategy for UPC Romania will remain unchanged as it waits to be taken over by Vodafone.

Speaking to Ziarul Financiar, the company’s new CEO Mihnea Radulescu said that it will continue expanding its fixed network into new locations and launching new services in order to secure more customers.

He added that the market in Romania is so competitive no player can afford to stand still. What is more, despite the current situation UPC Romania finds itself in as it prepares for the EC’s approval of its takeover, it still has a strategy, operating as a standalone company and part of Liberty Global.

As previously reported by Broadband TV News, Vodafone is in the process of acquiring Liberty Global’s assets in Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania in a deal worth €19 billion.

Radulescu has replaced Robert Redeleanu, who is now heading UPC Polska, which will remain owned by Liberty Global.

Sky Deutschland to drop RTL’s pay-TV channels

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German pay-TV broadcaster Sky Deutschland will remove pay-TV channels RTL Crime, RTL Passion and RTL Living from its line-up on July 17, 2018.

No agreement was reached regarding further distribution, parent company Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland said in a statement.

“We very much regret that our channels RTL Crime, RTL Passion and RTL Living, which are among the most popular and most watched pay-TV channels in Germany and Austria, can no longer be received via Sky from July 17, 2018,” said Dr Klaus Holtmann, head of digital thematic channels at Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland. “Unfortunately, despite intense efforts, we were unable to reach a commercial agreement for the renewal of the cooperation.”

The axing of the RTL channels follows Sky Deutschland’s removal of the pay-TV channels operated by ProSiebenSat.1 in July 2016, further reducing its number of third-party channels. Other third-party channels dropped by Sky include Goldstar TV, Sport1 US HD, AXN, MGM Channel and – most recently – Sky Sport1+ HD.

Through the move, RTL Crime, RTL Passion and RTL Living will no longer be available to DTH satellite viewers on Astra (19.2° East), resembling around half of Germany’s TV households.

The channels continue to be carried by cable and IPTV platform operators including Vodafone, Unitymedia and Entertain TV. In Austria they are available via UPC Austria and in Switzerland via UPC and Teleclub.

Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland also operates pay-TV channel GEO Television, distributed via Entertain TV, Vodafone and Amazon Prime Video Channels.

Unitymedia adds download function to Horizon Go

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German cable operator Unitymedia has equipped its mobile TV service Horizon Go with a download function.

With Download 2 Go, customers with a subscription to video-on-demand service maxdome can download films and series, save them on their mobile device and view them for up to 14 days without an internet connection.

Up to three devices can be registered for the download function; up to eight videos can be downloaded per device. Deleting the videos creates space for new recordings. Started videos expire automatically after 48 hours.

All series and films available for download are indicated in the new download area of the app. The new feature is automatically provided at no additional cost in the current Horizon Go app.