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By | July 18, 2001

      Chris Dziadul, Contributing Editor

      Although the long-awaited merger between Poland’s two digital platforms Wizja TV and Cyfra+ now looks closer than ever, it is still anything but a foregone conclusion.

      According to industry sources, UPC and Canal+ appeared to have reached an agreement only last month that would have seen them divide their interests in Poland 52/48 in favour of UPC. However, Vivendi Universal’s subsequent acquisition of a controlling stake in the Polish telecom company Elektrim significantly raised its profile – and hence bargaining power – in Poland, making such an agreement look weighted too much in favour of UPC.

      It is also understood that independent audits recently performed on both Wizja TV and Cyfra+ yielded some surprising results. One of the most worrying for both parties – and indeed a stark reminder of the piracy that still plagues the Polish market – was that up to 50 per cent of each platform’s subscribers were not paying for the service. This effectively reduced the true figure for the combined DTH take-up of Wizja TV and Cyfra+ to between 400-450,000, or around half that required to make a joint platform economically viable.

      Polsat, which operates the third Polish platform Polsat 2 Cyfrowy, could still have a pivotal role to play in any deal. Almost from the onset, its strategy seems to have been far most astute than that of its rivals. Unlike Canal+, for instance, it avoided the mistake of not charging for decoders, choosing instead to offer its customers a free subscription. It then introduced a paid-for premium package, which though arguably less comprehensive than anything offered by Wizja TV and Canal+ still includes a proprietary sports and interactive educational channel. Polsat 2 Cyfrowy now has 230,000 subscribers and is going from strength to strength, while its two rivals remain deadlocked in negotiations.

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