Concentration of Ownership in the Field of Cable Providers
Two rivals in the realm of cable providers, the private SBB and state-owned Telekom Srbija, have entered into a real war over domination in this field. The race between them cannot merely be viewed through the prism of market competition for the strongest position, but as an attempt by the state to reduce the influence of the owner of one of the few private television stations which has a critical attitude towards the current government. N1, the cable news channel owned by SBB, has, since the beginning, been a target for attacks by the highest state officials and pro-government media which refer to it as being ’American’, insinuating in this way that it works for foreign interests rather than the public interest.
SBB has been dominant in the field of cable providers for years. According to the data of the Regulatory Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services (RATEL), in 2017 SBB was the biggest provider of the distrubution of media content with a 54% market share relative to the number of subscribers. This number includes the data for the once fourth largest operators, IKOM, bought by SBB in early 2018. On the other hand, Telekom Srbija had a share of ’only’ 25%.
However, this began to change over the last few years when Telekom began to buy up smaller operators, justifying this with its ‘Million Plus’ strategy. The goal was for Telekom to acquire more than a million TV and internet users in this way. Nevertheless, the way in which this state company bought up these operators is what gained the most attention.
Telekom bought the operator Kopernikus in November last year for just under €200 million, which was seen as far above the market price among the public. The owner of Kopernikus, Srdjan Milovanović - the brother of Zvezdan Milovanović, the trustee of the Serbian Progressive Party for Niš - bought two television stations with a national frequency – O2 (formerly B92) and Prva TV – for a similar amount of money as he had received for Kopernikus. This course of events strengthened suspicions that the two television stations were in fact bought with state money, in order for the government to bring under its control all television stations with a national frequency. Testimony to the fact that the bonds between Milovanović and Telekom are strong is provided by the fact that shortly after Prva and O2 changed ownership they began to broadcast exclusive sports content from the sport channel Arena Sport, owned by Telekom.
After this acquisition, Telekom bought another three smaller providers – Radijus Vektor, Avcom and Masko – for an undisclosed price.
SBB and Telekom continued their battle through the content on offer to their users. Towards the end of last year, SBB accused Telekom that it had prevented its internet users from watching N1, while Telekom accused SBB of this. On the other hand, SBB later announced that it would end broadcasting RTS, the public broadcaster, to the diaspora, as Telekom, which has the rights for distributing the program of RTS, had increased fees multiple times, something that Telekom denied.
Although Telekom has still not caught up with SBB in terms of market share, things are definitely moving in the direction of greater concentration and the increase of company size if we take into account that, aside from these two providers, only the state-owned Post and private Sat-trakt have users in numbers approaching anything substantial.