Chris Dziadul Reports: Bulgaria's Long Road
By Chris Dziadul
Broadband TV News?
Bulgaria is a market in transition and clearly still has some way to go before it resembles those in West European countries.
That was arguably the main conclusion to be drawn from the Business Briefing on digital TV distribution held in Sofia on October 1. Organised jointly by Broadband TV News and Telenor Satellite Broadcasting, it brought together leading local industry players and highlighted the many challenges they continue to face.
Pay-TV services are currently received in 85% of TV homes in Bulgaria, with Bulsatcom (DTH), Blizoo (cable) and Vivacom (DTH) claiming the most subscribers. IPTV is still in its infancy, with Telekom Austria-backed M-Tel the leading provider, and there are still numerous smaller companies offering viewers services.
The main trend in the last few years has been a huge growth in the take-up of DTH and at the same time contraction in cable. On the other hand, the DTH market has been volatile and seen platform closures – Satellite BG, the most recent, went under earlier this year – while cable has become more sophisticated, thanks largely to the large amount of money invested in Blizoo by its Swedish owners EQT.
The Sofia Business Briefing was timely in the sense that it took place literally hours after Bulgaria had completed its transition to digital broadcasting – prematurely, many would argue, as it left thousands of homes, especially in the countryside, with blank screens.
It also came against the backdrop of on on-going row between Bulgaria and the European Commission over the controversial awards of multiplex licences. The Commission is in the process of taking legal action against the country, and even if the whole thing comes to nothing it casts a shadow on Bulgaria and its TV industry.
However, the main problem facing the industry – and one that became apparent almost straight away in the Business Briefing – is finance in all its shape and forms. The reality is that services such as VOD and OTT, the latter provided by HBO Go and Voyo, are all now found in Bulgaria.
On the other hand, subscription fees are among the lowest in Europe and ARPU so low one wonders how TV businesses can continue to grow.
Yet despite this, Bulgaria is almost certainly moving in the right direction. There is an enthusiasm in the industry and foreign investors such as CME, MTG, Telenor and Telekom Austria all appear fully committed to the cause and will help the country get up to speed.
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