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5 December 2019

Romania battens down hatches for Liberty-Vodafone effects

Ripples are being felt all over Europe since Liberty Global’s market-altering cable sale to Vodafone, the latest being a spate of consolidation in Romania – a cutthroat market with plenty of room left for OTT video disruption despite proclamations of oversaturation.

Romanian operator RCS & RDS, the cable TV and internet arm of telecoms group Digi Communications, is leasing cable lines from AKTA, also known as DCS, in a deal which has been interpreted as a precursor to a takeover and even misreported as a done deal in a couple of cases. Digi will pay up to €77 million ($85 million) in rental fees for access to the AKTA cable network.

While UPC Romania, now under Vodafone ownership, is Romania’s overall largest cable operator, AKTA is Romania’s largest remaining independent cable operator. Since the deal completed, Vodafone swiftly brought about an expansion effort for the Vodafone TV service, bringing it into Romania, Greece and Portugal, joining existing Spain and Italy deployments, powered by Kaltura. So, AKTA has plenty to worry about.

AKTA doesn’t have a standalone streaming service to speak of but does offer the TV Everywhere service AKTATV to existing cable TV subscribers, serving up some 25 channels online and via the mobile app. Cable TV is cheap in Romania, with ATKA offering promotions as low as $5.50 a month, cheaper than many pure play OTT services.

When last reported individually about two years ago, UPC in Romania had in the region of 350,000 TV subscribers. Today, RCS & RDS has approximately 540,000 subscribers across cable TV, internet and telephony (fixed line and mobile).

RCS & RDS recently tapped Nagra to supply cardless content protection as a conditional access module – the Swiss vendor’s first cardless CAM deployment. The technology is based on Nagra’s new generation of CAS back-end technology designed to accommodate co-existence of smartcard and cardless security clients. It replaces cardless CAMs deployed by RCS & RDS in 2013.

DCS itself was founded after the coming together of a number of the country’s cablecos back in 2005 and began offering cable and satellite TV services, as well as internet and landline accesses, under the brand name AKTA. The most recently available public subscriber figures date to around 2011 when it had some 200,000 digital cable customers and an additional 80,000 DTH TV subscribers. But then in early 2011, DCS sold its DTH business to Romtelecom, followed a year later by DCS taking over Cable Net, Canad Systems Group, Parlatel and Marnisat Media.

Faultline once floated the option for M7 to sell the UPC DTH operation in Romania to RCS & RDS, although we rubbished this option based on doubt that Liberty Global could stomach doing a deal with RCS & RDS directly or even eventually, after so many years at each other’s throats. M7 was the topic of takeover rumors itself by Canal+ over the summer, after it acquired the Romanian DTH firm Focus Sat from Liberty Global last year.