German cable execs clash on digital TV strategy

While Germany’s cable industry has made solid progress in attracting subscribers to its broadband and telephony services in recent years, consensus on how to take digital TV penetration beyond its current base remains elusive. 

Speaking on the introductory panel session at the ANGA Cable trade show in Cologne yesterday, leading German cable and broadcast executives expressed different views on the merits of a firm digital switchover date for cable. 

Carl-Eugen Eberle, general counsel at public broadcaster ZDF said that German consumers remained sceptical of the merits of digital TV for a number of reasons, not least because they do not see why they should pay for something they previously received for free. “Users don’t want to have a second remote control or a set-top and they don’t want to pay an additional fee,” said Eberle. He said cable operators needed to make digital TV a more user-friendly experience.

Eberle’s views were seconded by Werner Hanf, CEO of city carrier NetCologne. “People don’t understand why they should have to pay in digital for content they previously got for free in analogue,” he said. Hanff said housing associations that have contracts with operators such as NetCologne were also sceptical about the benefits of digital migration. 

However, Markus Schmid, CEO of Level 4 cable operator TeleColumbus, said that what was needed was a firm switchover date. “In Germany we are in the digital stone age. This is why people can’t cope with the technology – we have done a lot wrong and we have to admit that,” said Schmid. “We need a clear indication of how things will go on. We need a switch-off date.”
Schmid’s comments met with disagreement from Adrian von Hammerstein, CEO of Germany’s largest cable operator, Kabel Deutschland. “A lot of our customers still access analogue,” said Von Hammerstein. “We listen to what our customers say and what the housing associations say, and there is no reason to switch off analogue.”

Parm Sandhu, CEO of operator Unitymedia, said that the real barrier to wider digital take-up in Germany was the absence of an industrial policy on the part of government. “There is an absence of an industrial policy for media and it’s about time politicians looked at it,” said Sandhu. He said the cable industry needed to come together to lobby for such a policy. 

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