Polish satellite TV merger gets green light

Poland’s second and third biggest satellite platforms, Cyfra Plus and N, have finally got the go ahead to merge from the country’s Office of Consumer and Competition Protection (UOKiK), nine months after an agreement had been reached between the owners.

The process stalled after the European Commission asked UOKiK to investigate the merger on competition grounds, since there would only be two major satellite providers. But, UOKiK concluded that the Polish pay TV market would still be more competitive than many others in Europe, with two powerful remaining DTH providers, market leader Cyfrowy Polsat with 3.5 million subscribers, and the combined Cyfra Plus/n platform, with 2.5 million. Many countries only have one dominant DTH provider, such as BSkyB in the UK with over 10 million subscribers and over 65 percent of the total pay TV market there.

In Poland, there are also around 400 cable TV operators, mostly very small, but with a few significant ones. The largest of those is Multimedia Polska with around 760,000 subscribers, although some of these customers are IPTV, which is a small sector overall. But, with digital terrestrial services also gaining ground in Poland, it always looked likely that the merger between Cyfra Plus and N would be waved through.

The deal was quite complex, leaving a three-way ownership split for the platform between Canal Plus with 51 percent, TVN 32 percent, and Liberty Global 17 percent. Canal Plus is the French pay TV company and subsidiary of the Paris-based media group Vivendi, which in turn is majority owned by General Electric of the U.S.It is a strong supporter of the HbbTV hybrid broadcast standard, which therefore will quite likely be deployed by the newly merged DTH platform.

Liberty Global is the international cable TV group with operations in 11 European countries including Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands as well as Poland, mostly under the UPC brand. TVN is the broadcasting subsidiary of Polish media group ITI Holdings, which also owns the internet portal onet.pl. N, launched in 2006, focused on high-end content. TVN has about 30 HD channels in Poland, and a strong range of premium content including Champions League football, and has had exclusive contracts with some Hollywood studios including MGM, Paramount, and DreamWorks.

Meanwhile, Canal Plus has rights for the Polish Football Premiership League until 2014, and also has contracts with Hollywood studios 20th Century Fox and Universal, as well as with some domestic local film distributors. So, the combined DTH platform will be in a strong position for competing with the market leader Cyfrowy Polsat. That may have been why the merger did undergo competition scrutiny.