Market Watch

Romania Stalls Analogue Switch-Off to 2015



The Romanian government has postponed the country's analogue switch-off deadline, shifting the off date from January 2012 to January 2015. Move had an immediate impact with telecommunications regulator, ANCOM, calling off two ongoing tenders for DTT operator licences. Government claims more time is needed for the viewers to buy digital equipment, as well as for broadcasters, producers and distributors to prepare for digital TV broadcast.

The new strategy says that analogue switch-off can start in 2014, with multiplexes 1 and 2 covering about 60 per cent of the population. A tender for another four multiplexes will be called after 15 January 2015. ANCOM now expects a new schedule for transition to digital, as well as requirement for a new tender for the first two multiplexes, to be issued by the government by mid October 2010. But the regulator will have to return money paid by seven companies to participate in the original tender, including RCS & RDS, Romtelecom, TDF, Radiocommunications National Company, Media Sat, Österreichische Rundfunksender (ORS) and General Satellite Sofia. Had the tender gone ahead, licensees would have launched new services by the end of 2010.

Analysis
Romania now stands well behind many of its neighbours in progress towards analogue switch-off. DTT is currently available in eight Eastern European countries: Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Two of them, Estonia and Latvia, have already switched off analogue, the others are planning to do so before the end of 2012.

The only EU country intending to finish analogue switch off after the recommended 2012 is Poland, where ASO is set for mid 2013. The Romanian TV market is saturated with multichannel penetration reaching about 85 per cent of homes. There are five satellite operators and two big cable TV players; IPTV service launched last year by the incumbent telco, Romtelecom; and a great number of small cable TV providers.  
Price remains the major, if not only, driver of Romania's pay TV market. 

Over the last three years satellite platforms have been growing fast, only recently slowing down due to the market's saturation amplified by unfavourable economic conditions in the country. Although a certain percentage of homes won't be attracted by satellite TV, the delay in launching DTT should be an advantage primarily to these satellite players, operating in rural areas without competition from other platforms, although the porr economy remains an obstacle for all players.

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