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Before yesterdayBroadband TV News: Cable

Hannes Ametsreiter remains CEO of Vodafone Deutschland

By JΓΆrn Krieger

The supervisory board of Vodafone Deutschland has prematurely extended Hannes Ametsreiter’s mandate as CEO of the telco by three years.

“Hannes Ametsreiter has led Vodafone Deutschland to new strength over the past four and a half years – with a clear growth strategy, innovation-based vision, strategic acquisitions and a strong focus on digital transformation,” said supervisory board chairman Frank Rövekamp.

“Our company is now in a better position than ever before. With the extension of his mandate decided today, we are honouring his achievements, at the same time ensuring that this success story continues.”

Ametsreiter has been CEO of Vodafone Deutschland since October 2015. He is currently in his second term of office. With the extension, his mandate at Vodafone will run until September 2024.

“I am very pleased that the Vodafone supervisory board has renewed its confidence in our management course,” said Ametsreiter. “Together with all 16,000 Vodafone employees, we would like to continue our work in the coming years.”

“To achieve this, we are pursuing three major goals: We want to further advance the gigabit society in Germany. We want to focus even more strongly on helping people and companies. And we want to press ahead with the integration of Unitymedia, position ourselves even more strongly as a digital company – and thus also leverage important synergies for our business.”

Vodafone Deutschland removes Jukebox and RCKTV

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Vodafone Deutschland has terminated the distribution of German music channels Jukebox and RCKTV on its cable network on April 1, 2020.

The removal was confirmed to Broadband TV News by a spokesman of the telecommunications group. “We no longer have the licences that are necessary to continue offering these two channels as part of our pay-TV line-up.”

Jukebox and RCKTV, operated by German media company High View, formed part of Vodafone’s HD Premium Plus package. A caption now informs viewers about the removal of the channels.

Jukebox can still be received on Sky, Zattoo, waipu.tv and 1&1, RCKTV continues to be carried by Deutsche Telekom, Zattoo, waipu.tv and 1&1.

Vectra launches online press service

By Chris Dziadul

Poland’s largest cable operator Vectra has launched a new service offering customers unlimited access to over 100 online titles.

The first such service in the country, Prasa Online (‘Online Press’) is produced with the company Tidal and is available through Vectra’s website and Android and iOS mobile applications, on up to two devices both in Poland and abroad.

Prasa Online is being offered free of charge for 14 days on a trial basis to both new and existing Vectra subscribers, after which it will cost PLN19.99 (€4.39) a month with no contract.

HGTV launches in Estonia

By Chris Dziadul

Elisa and Discovery have entered into a strategic partnership to bring HGTV into Estonia.

Elisa will be the first operator in Estonia and Baltics to launch HGTV, in a landmark deal that also sees the channel localised in Estonian language for the Estonian audience.

Commenting on the development, Ekaterina Mihajlovic, Sr. Commercial Development Manager Discovery CEEMCA (Central and Eastern Europe, Mediterranean and Central Asia), said: “We are really excited to expand our strategic partnership with Elisa, by bringing HGTV on the Estonian market, in addition to the current portfolio. In the coming months, we are going to fully drive the awareness and engagement around the channel, and I’m happy we’ve found in Elisa a strong and innovative business partner to support the common goal of bringing this exciting new home and gardening genre. Moreover, we are further expanding our footprint of HD channels on Elisa’s platform to make sure we provide our high-quality content to as many subscribers as possible: we are launching Investigation Discovery HD, DTX HD and Discovery Science HD, while bringing Animal Planet HD, Eurosport 1 HD and Eurosport 2 HD in the Basic and Extended packages, which cover an even wider subscriber base. At the same time, we will keep growing our already existing portfolio, with the aim to power people’s passions around as many verticals as possible: adventure & survival, tough jobs, family and relationships, extreme medical cases, travel. All of this while also fuelling fans’ passion for sports and bringing the best tennis – Grand Slams, cycling, snooker and the most comprehensive Olympic experience”.

Toomas Ili, head of TV content acquisitions at Elisa, added: “Elisa is proud to be the first TV service provider in Estonia to introduce HGTV to its clients. We are committed to offering our viewers the best possible selection of premium TV channels. This, together with our exclusive original programming, makes Elisa the top content provider and entertainer in Estonian market”.

Stingray UHD channels launch in Austria

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Canadian media company Stingray is expanding the distribution of its Ultra HD (UHD) channels in Europe.

The three music channels Stingray Festival 4K, Stingray Hits 4K and Stingray Ambiance 4K can now be received on the LIWEST cable network, marking their launch in Austria.

The channels are offered in pay-TV package Music 4K which costs €3.90 per month. All customers of LIWEST’s basic TV subscription can sign up for the bouquet.

Most recently, Stingray’s UHD music channels joined the cable network of wilhelm.tel in Germany.

“The great interest in the Stingray 4K channels across Europe continues to grow. In addition to Germany and Austria, we are already available in Europe on major cable platforms in Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland and Russia, among others,” said Tom Adams, managing director, German branch Stingray. “Other countries will soon follow.”

“Platforms with 4K set-top boxes can demonstrate their strong performance with our channels offering native UHD content,” added Adams.

Virgin Media brings engineers back in house

By Julian Clover

Virgin Media is to recruit an additional 700 engineers as it looks to enhance its customer service.

The company has announced that it will be insourcing all of its customer-facing install and service activity. It has also announced reforms to its regional partner structure and relationship.

The directly employed engineer workforce will increase by more than 700, taking the total number to 1,800. A number of the 700 engineers will brought in house from partners who previously carried out home visits for the cablenet.

Severina Pascu, Deputy CEO and Chief Financial Officer at Virgin Media, said: “Bringing our customer-facing installation teams and engineers into Virgin Media will improve the service and experience our customers get from Virgin Media. Understandably, with our brand and superior network, our customers expect the best from us and we’re continuing to invest to deliver on those expectations and become the most recommended brand in the sector.”

Last year, Virgin Media re-trained its engineers and installation teams for the launch of its Intelligent WiFi proposition. Further training is currently underway for those engineers joining the Virgin Media team.

By giving customers improved information about their services and connectivity performance in the home, Virgin Media believes customers will get a better overall experience and will see a fall in reported issues.

Virgin Media has also reformed its build partner model to provide a single point for the planning, expansion and maintenance of its next-generation gigabit network.

The operator has awarded five-year regional build contracts to six national partners across nine regions worth hundreds of millions of pounds per year in total starting from April 2020.

Timeless Drama Channel expands to Lebanon

By Chris Dziadul

SPI/FilmBox and R&R have signed a distribution deal which allows the latter to distribute Timeless Drama Channel (TDC) exclusively to cable platforms in Lebanon.

The deal also marks the launch of TDC this month Cablevision, on one of the biggest cable operators in the region.

Commenting on the development, Murat Muratoglu, head of distribution at SPI International, said: “We are proud to partner with R&R to bring the wonderful world of Turkish dramas to Lebanon.

“Through this partnership, Lebanese viewers will get to watch hundreds of hours of critically-acclaimed Turkish TV series and movies on TDC”.

Bassam Jaber, R&R chairman & CEO, added: “R&R, the leader content aggregator in Lebanon, proves again its market leadership through exclusively providing the Lebanese market with this wonderful Turkish drama channel.

“We are proud to launch our partnership with SPI/FilmBox and look forward to enriching it by additional channels in the near future”.

Monaco Telecom launches IPTV service with Zattoo and Apple TV

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Monaco Telecom has rolled out a multiscreen IPTV platform with Zattoo and Apple.

After Salt (Switzerland) and Eir (Ireland), Monaco Telecom is Zattoo’s third B2B partner to use the Apple TV box as the standard reception device for its customers.

Existing cable TV customers will get access to mobile applications (iOS/Android) they can use across Europe. Future customers benefit from the newly built fibre-optic network with Apple TV as the core component.

Zattoo operates the complete service as an end-to-end solution and also handles the operation of the entire TV platform, the management of the TV application on Apple TV as well as the ongoing development of the platform and all front-end applications.

The Apple TV box works like a set-top box with operator login, enabling the automatic installation of the TV application. This also applies to iOS devices.

In addition to more than 200 TV channels – 150 of them in HD quality -, the TV service includes interactive features such as instant restart, time-shift, catch-up TV and nPVR, available for the first time in Monaco, according to Zattoo.

A French-language bouquet with 35 TV channels is also part of the offer. Pay-TV packages are available as part of a cooperation with Canal+.

A1 Telekom Austria adds Amazon Prime Video to TV platform

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Austrian telco A1 Telekom Austria has integrated Amazon Prime Video into its domestic TV platform, which was renamed from A1 TV to A1 Xplore TV at the same time.

With this move, A1 Telekom Austria wants to underline its ambition to create a central hub combining linear TV and streaming services. The service can be accessed via the TV set using the A1 Xplore TV box, by a smartphone or tablet app (iOS/Android), on the web and via Chromecast.

The offer includes over 260 channels, an on-demand service with 7,500 films and series and interactive features such as instant replay, 7-day catch-up TV and up to 500 hours of TV recording.

Euskaltel returns to full-year growth

By Chris Dziadul

Spain’s Euskaltel Group, which comprises the Euskaltel, R and Telecable brands, gained 21,669 new TV subscribers in 2019.

This, according to the company in its latest set of results, was thanks to its 4K decoder and inclusion of access to the most requested OTT platforms and services by users from the remote control.

As of the end of last year, the group’s TV penetration was almost 80% of its customer base.

Euskaltel Group had 669,671 fixed network customers at the end of 2019, or 8,757 more than a year earlier.

Q4 marked the fifth consecutive quarter of customer growth following the loss of users in the two previous years.

Although Euskaltel Group’s revenues were 0.9% lower in 2019 than the previous year, its EBITDA was 2.4% higher and it closed the year with a profit of €62 million.

Euskaltel Group notes that it will be able to access over 18 million homes in Spain in the first half of this year, including its local markets, using its own network or through wholesale agreements.

It will present its national expansion business plan on March 10.

Vodafone sees little chance of success for legal action against EU approval of Unitymedia takeover

By JΓΆrn Krieger

Vodafone does not expect the lawsuits filed by Deutsche Telekom, Tele Columbus and NetCologne against the approval of the takeover of Unitymedia by the European Commission to succeed.

“In a 15-month procedure, the EU Commission has thoroughly examined the takeover of Unitymedia by Vodafone by means of market tests and extensive surveys, among other things,” a Vodafone spokesman told Broadband TV News. “The merged company will fuel competition and deliver better, faster and more innovative broadband and TV services to consumers and businesses.”

“In our view, the approval is good for consumers, the economy and competition in Germany,” the spokesperson said. “We are therefore relaxed about the legal action.” The spokesman did not address the question of whether and to what extent Vodafone is prepared for the case that the merger with Unitymedia has to be reversed.

Deutsche Telekom, Tele Columbus and NetCologne recently filed three so-called actions for annulment at the Court of Justice of the European Union against the approval of the controversial cable deal by the European Commission. The three competitors criticise that the “re-monopolisation of the cable market” would weaken competition.

UPC Polska outlines 2020 strategy

By Chris Dziadul

UPC Polska plans to focus more on the provision of mobile services this year.

Speaking in a press conference following the release of the company’s latest set of results and quoted by Wirtualne Media, its CEO Robert Redeleanu said that its objective is to have up 20% of subscribers receiving such services within the next three years.

He also said that UPC Polska also plans to concentrate on building up its fibre network and widening the reach of 1Gbps internet access.

Redeleanu added that following a wholesale agreement at the end of last year to sell its services on Inea’s networks, it plans to reach similar deals with Orange and Nexera, probably in the second half of 2020.

Redeleanu also said that UPC Polska wants to be actively involved in the consolidation of the Polish cable market this year.

EU approval of Vodafone/Unitymedia cable deal faces legal action

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German network operators Deutsche Telekom, Tele Columbus and NetCologne are taking legal action against the European Commission’s decision to approve the controversial takeover of Liberty Global’s German cable company Unitymedia by Vodafone.

Three so-called actions for annulment have been filed at the Court of Justice of the European Union against the approval, a court spokesman confirmed to German industry newsletter Medienkorrespondenz.

The plaintiffs had previously criticised that the “re-monopolisation of the cable market” would weaken competition.

On February 4, 2020, the deadline expired for taking legal action against the European competition authority’s approval of the cable deal at the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Liberty faces falling cable revenues

By Julian Clover

Liberty Global says its residential cable revenue fell by 0.1% to $1,902.1 million across its European territories after falls in revenue in Switzerland, Belgium and the UK & Ireland.

This contrasts with the 5.2% year-on-year increase in mobile revenues to $429.9 million. Switzerland was the leading light for UPC this quarter, while there was also growth in Central & East Europe (see separate story), where Poland and Slovakia added 35,000 new RGUs between them to 13,500 customers.

Overall, full-year operating income decreased 11.2% year-on-year to $745.5 million;

In Belgium, Telenet recorded Q4 losses of 7,000 customer relationships was a significant year-over-year improvement as compared to a loss of 21,000 in Q4 2018, primarily driven by successful quad-play bundles and end-of-year promotional campaigns

And in Switzerland subscriber erosion of 23,000 in the fourth quarter represents a strong year-over-year improvement, primarily driven by lower churn.

The operator says Q4 volumes are generally impacted by annual billing cycles.

Liberty holds steady in CEE

By Chris Dziadul

Liberty Global ended 2019 on a positive note in the two Central and East European markets in which it still retains a presence.

The number of net customer additions in Poland and Slovakia last year was 35,200, compared to 12,900 in 2018.

At the same time, the net RGU addition total was 130,200, up from 85,900 the previous year.

In its latest set of results, the company says that it had a total of 1,263,600 video subscribers in Poland, the majority of which (1,067,000) received enhanced services.

It also had 1,229,600 internet, 674,400 fixed-line and 9,000 mobile customers, while the RGU total stood at 3,167,600.

Meanwhile, in Slovakia the company had a total of 171,300 video subscribers, 142,500 of who received enhanced services.

It also had 140,600 internet and 87,100 fixed-line telephony customers, with its RGU total being 399,000.

The company notes that rebased revenue in the two CEE markets grew by 3.5% in Q4 2019 due to an increase in residential cable subscription revenue driven by new build areas. However, rebased segment OCF decreased by 10.7%.

Euskaltel teams up with Virgin Group

By Chris Dziadul

The Spanish cable operator Euskaltel has signed a trademark licence agreement with Virgin Group to use the Virgin brand in Spain to drive its National Expansion strategy.

With improved wholesale access agreements already signed in December 2019, Euskaltel now has all the key elements required for the strategy and Virgin will take the operator into the 85% of the Spanish market where it is not present today. The Virgin brand will coexist alongside Euskaltel’s three established brands, namely Euskaltel, Telecable and R.

Commenting on the agreement, José Miguel García, CEO of Euskaltel, said: “The Virgin brand will be a major asset for Euskaltel as we expand our business into the rest of Spain. Virgin represents the great customer service, value and reliability that are central to our National Expansion strategy. We are convinced that Virgin is the right brand to drive growth and value in our business as we expand into the 85% of the Spanish market where we are not yet present”.

Virgin Group CEO Josh Bayliss added: “The Euskaltel Group is a market leader in Spain, known for its excellent service and innovation in the telecoms sector. These are qualities on which we pride ourselves at Virgin, making us confident Euskaltel is the perfect partner with whom to launch Virgin telecoms services in Spain”.

fight24 joins wilhelm.tel cable network

By JΓΆrn Krieger

German combat sports channel fight24 has launched on the cable network of wilhelm.tel.

The channel is offered in HD quality and will be freely available to all customers of the wilhelm.tel TV service in February 2020. From March, fight24 will be part of the two pay-TV packages deluxe and deluxe xl.

The 24-hour channel shows fighting sports competitions from Germany and Europe, including Olympic boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts and Muay Thai.

Wilhelm.tel is fight24’s largest distribution partner so far. The channel can also be received on streaming platform Couchfunk and on smaller cable networks. Negotiations with further platform operators are underway.

Liberty expands Plume relationship

By Chris Dziadul

Liberty Global has expanded its relationship with Plume to give consumers more control over devices connected to their home network. As a result, it will roll out Smart Home Services from Plume across its footprint this year.

A first selection of these services were made available to Virgin Media customers last year and now all Liberty Global customers will be able to benefit from intelligent WiFi in all gateways to set controls around online access for guests and children, pause internet use on specific devices and monitor broadband performance remotely. The new features will be integrated into the Connect App, available free of charge to all customers across the UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland and Poland.

Liberty notes that the innovative features build on its speed leadership as it continues to roll out gigabit speed services across its footprint. In the UK, this includes Virgin Media’s commitment to rolling out gigabit services to its entire network of 15 million homes before the end of next year.

The deal also means that Liberty Global markets will start rolling out next generation Mesh WiFi Boosters, called WiFi Pods. The Pods have been trialled by Virgin Media customers in the UK and other European countries. They extend WiFi throughout the home increasing speed, reliability and coverage by adapting to the environment it operates in. This is made possible by Plume Adaptive WiFi which optimises and tailors broadband connections according to the customer and their individual habits, which in turn is enabled by open- source software OpenSyncTM.

Commenting on the development, Enrique Rodriguez, CTO, Liberty Global, said: “Combining Plume with Liberty Global’s gigabit network capabilities releases the full potential of broadband speeds and spreads them throughout the home, adapting to the unique environment each connection operates in. The expanded partnership with Plume builds on our commitment to creating the next-generation of broadband by working with partners to enhance our network capability and go beyond speed-leadership. This strongly positions Liberty Global to offer a highly reliable internet residential services in the home that enables smart homes, online gaming and wide variety of use cases which rely on wireless connectivity.”

Liberty assets boost Vodafone revenues

By Chris Dziadul

Vodafone’s total European revenues increased by 10.1% year-on-year in the quarter ending December 31, 2019 thanks largely to its newly acquired Liberty Global assets.

They amounted to €8,970 million, compared to €8,148 million a year earlier, though the organic service revenue, excluding the assets, fell by 1.4%.

In its latest set of results the company notes that in Germany its TV customer base declined by 73,000 in the quarter, which was similar to the prior quarter.

Yet despite this, Unitymedia had 153,000 net cable additions and overall the group added 93,000 broadband customers.

Meanwhile, in Spain its commercial performance continued to recover, with the total TV subscriber base growing by 56,000. This was supported by its new TV and series offers and despite its decision last year not to renew football content rights.

Q3, ending December 31, was the first quarter of mobile contract, broadband and TV customer base growth since Q3 FY18.

Vodafone Group’s total revenues in the quarter ending December 31, 2019 amounted to €11,750 million (+6.8%), while the group service revenues were €9,733 million (0.8%).

Commenting on the results, group chief executive Nick Read said: “I am pleased with the pace at which we have executed our commercial and strategic priorities, which has allowed us to maintain our momentum in the quarter. Competition in Europe remains challenging, primarily in the value segment, however we continued to improve customer loyalty and to grow in broadband, and we achieved good growth in Africa. We expect a further gradual improvement in service revenue growth in Q4, led by Europe.

“We have recently announced the proposed sale of our stake in Vodafone Egypt, which simplifies the Group into two scaled regional platforms – Europe and sub-Saharan Africa – and reduces our net debt. We have also appointed the senior management team for our European TowerCo, and we are preparing for a potential IPO in early 2021.”

Elisa outlines cable strategy

By Chris Dziadul

Estonia’s leading cable operator Elisa connected almost 4,500 households in Tallinn and Tartu to its fibre-optic network in 2019.

Furthermore, it modernised 36,000 households in Tallinn. Looking forward to this year, the company says that it will continue expanding its cable network to new homes in Tallinn, Tartu, Harju County and Parnu, as well as its fibre-optic network to 30,000 households where its internet services are available through cable.

Elisa will also start offering its services in the network to be established in Elektriveli.

In the mobile sector, the company says it will “definitely focus on 5G network availability in the near future”.