COMPETITOR OF CABLE TV ON THE HORIZON
If a company decides one of these days to operate a cable television anywhere in Bulgaria in order to broadcast the programmes of bTV, Eurocom, Channel 3, Ring Plus, MM, TV Europe and several more TV channels, it will have to negotiate with ITV Partner. For a few months now the company owns the rights for cable broadcasting of nine Bulgarian channels. The company is owned by the shareholding company Interactive Technologies, with Executive Director Christian Groke. Since the winter of 1992 Mr. Groke has been a member of the Management Board of the Europe TV channel. The biggest European satellite - Eutelsat - and the technological giant Philips are partners of Interactive Technologies.We are presently holding negotiations with the managements of bTV and Eurocom Bulgaria for the right to broadcast their programmes by cable, Tsvetelina Dimitrova, Chairperson of ITV Partner Board of Directors told the BANKER weekly. In addition to the above-mentioned Bulgarian TVs, we have also signed contracts with the satellite channels Private Gold, Club, and Eurosport-Bulgaria. Although they have been almost unknown to the consumer so far, companies like ITV Partner could be viewed as a future, although too distant challenge to traditional cable networks. For just a few months (ITV Partner was established in March 2004), the firm managed to concentrate in its hands interesting possibilities for the players on the market, thanks to which it will probably become an important figure on the domestic telecom market. In addition to a digital signal for about 300 TV programmes (all most-watched Bulgarian TVs, all foreign channels represented in Bulgaria, and about 250 free TVs on board of the HotBird satellite, ITV Partner offers also debit and credit card payments and transfer of picture and data by INTERNET. The company advertises itself as the first interactive TV in the country. We have worked out a feed-back channel. Customers may book tickets, read their e-mail, play games, put down stakes or get weather forecasts, Ms Dimitrova adds. For the time being the new player on the market insists not to be called competitor to the cable operators. According to Ms. Dimitrova, ITV Partner is outside of their scope of interests. We are rather a partner of the cable operators, she commented in front of the BANKER weekly. With some of them we have worked out or we are in the process of working out schemes for the sale of our digital receivers to their clients. Global research shows that when cable operators behave correctly on the market, satellite broadcasting and interactive services attract no more than 8-10% of the cable networks' subscribers, she added. The first barrier to the speedy introduction of satellite broadcasting and interactive services will be probably their price. In order to get access to the 300 programmes and the feed-back channel the client should pay BGN490 for a satellite dish, digital receiver and decoding smart card, and another BGN40 for installation. The set can be both hired or leased. The monthly subscription fee is BGN25, and the annual fee BGN270. At the same time, the cable operator Eurotur Sat offers about 40 digital programmes against a monthly fee of BGN20 and a deposit of BGN100 for a digital receiver, which are fully recovered when giving up the service. The offer of Eurotur Sat is valid only for clients of the company and does not include any interactive services. Most of the other cable operators also offer opportunities for watching digital television.By all estimates, satellite programmes and interactive television would be of interest to people with incomes above the average for the country. Getting a decoding device would be probably a good investment as well for the inhabitants of villa areas and more desolate regions of the country, which have never attracted cable operators. According to a poll of the Market Test agency, about 70% of the citizens use the services of cable operators. However, no data about the countryside and villages is available, Ms. Dimitrova told the BANKER. Our clients are mainly big companies, leisure industry establishments along the seaside and in the mountains, and people living outside of towns, she specified. The attitude towards interactive services will certainly change and the overall market of INTERNET services will certainly develop very quickly if people begin to view the virtual space as a stable medium for business and especially for e-payments. Such a stir-up is perhaps a matter of time and it is quite possible for well-informed people to have already forecast its periods. As the BANKER has already written, five companies expressed willingness to become digital radio and TV operators on Varna's territory in August. In October the Commission for Regulation of Telecommunications (CRT) should specify if the licence for a digital TV operator in the seaside city would be granted by tender or competition. Documents will be accepted afterwards. In October 1-15 the CRT is to say what interest has been shown towards digital licences for the towns of Plovdiv, Bourgas, Rousse, Stara Zagora and Sliven. If more than one candidate turns up there as well, the licence will also be granted through a tender or competition. The channels which the CRT will grant cannot be used for broadcasting analogue TV programme. The digital network will allow the usage of one and the same frequency for broadcasting up to six programmes.