Cable digital TV subs surpass analogue as industry sees strong growth

The European cable industry saw strong growth in digital TV, broadband and telephony, with digital TV now representing over half of all cable TV customers, according to the latest figures released by industry association Cable Europe.

Cable TV revenues were up 5% to EUR20.5 billion last year. Cable internet revenues amounted to EUR5.6 billion and telephony EUR3.7 billion. Internet is now 27% of cable operators’ business across the EU. Overall cable revenues last year were EUR20.6 billion across the EU27, a EUR1 billion increase year-on-year. VOD saw 24% revenue increase, while digital TV was up 12% last year.

Growth in RGUs was 3% last year, taking the total to 106.5 million, with 3.8 million new RGUs coming from the broadband and telephony business lines.

The cable industry last year saw digital TV growth, broadband growth and the growth of interactive services, said  Manuel Kohnstamm, president of Cable Europe, at a press conference to mark the start of this week’s Cable Congress event in London.

Kohnstamm said most of Cable Europe’s members were now upgrading to DOCSIS 3.0 networks. “Cable is increasingly competing with telcos and fibre companies but in most cases is capable of taking on that competition as well,” he said. He said cable was now delivering an average speed of 32Mbps across Europe, representing a blend of speeds achieved through new and legacy versions of DOCSIS, which was constantly going up. All net growth in cable broadband was attributable to DOCSIS 3.0, said Kohnstamm.

Digital TV customers now account for 52.6% of all TV customers. The number of digital subs is now greater than the number of analogue customers for the first time. Digital revenues exceeded analogue revenues in 2009. The number of TV households connected to cable TV has been going down because of former high rates of analogue penetration, Kohnstamm said.

Executive chairman Matthias Kurth said that digital-terrestrial switchover had led cable subscribers to migrate to digital as more digital channels became available. “We are now also seeing that people are paying for prime video services,” he said. “VOD is still at a low level but there is momentum,” said Kurth. He said that the addition of services such as time-shifting and other forms of advanced functionality such as DVR were also driving digital take-up.

Kurth said that Cable Europe had convinced the EU successfully that public money should only be used in areas where there is no other high-quality network available. On the public policy side, Kurth said Cable Europe was still concerned about simplifying copyright rules. “The Commission is also looking at that because they see it as a possible obstacle to a better customer experience,” he said.

The EU is producing a Green Paper on connected TV and Cable Europe is keen to deliver its input, Kurth said. He said that regulation in this area should not be overdone as it was essential to allow room for innovation.

“For next-generation services such as advanced broadband there should not be a too tight cost regulation in the first instance,” he said. “Regulators should not take on a bottom up type of cost regulation, not only for us but for regulated businesses,” said Kurth.

Kurth said cable operators were working on developing a mobile play in the form of extended WiFi availability, not only offering hotspots but opening up their subscriber WiFi clouds for public use. “We might not have spectrum but still have a mobile arm in the form of WiFi,” he said.

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