The news that Vodafone has finally received permission from the EC to take over Liberty Global’s cable assets in three CEE markets is hugely significant for the region.
It will see the company become a major player in all three, and indeed the leading provider of converged services in Europe as a whole. In Hungary, for instance, the combined Vodafone/UPC operation will have 25%, 24% and 19% shares of the country’s mobile, fixed-line broadband and pay-TV markets respectively, while in the Czech Republic its new operation will include over half a million next generation broadband customers and 539,000 receiving its cable TV services. In Romania, Vodafone will finally be able to establish a strong presence in the country’s TV market.
However, as in the case of the sale of Liberty’s assets in Germany to Vodafone, the transactions in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania will come with strings attached. They address the EC’s competition concerns for the combined €18.4 billion deal, which was first announced in May 2018 and is expected to close at the end of this month.
Questions now arise as to how long Liberty Global plans to remain in the CEE region, where it will only be left with a presence in Poland (UPC Polska and a minority stake in the DTH platform nc+) and Slovakia (UPC Slovakia). Its UPC DTH operation, active in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania for nearly two decades, was recently sold to M7 Group.
The wider picture in the region remains one of consolidation and re-alignment, with long-established players such as Liberty Global and CME fading from the picture and new ones, including the Czech Republic’s PPF Group, expanding rapidly. It seems that we are only in the early stages of this process.