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Q&A: Dragan Solak, chairman, United Group

Dragan Solak

Dragan Solak

United Group, combining SBB, Telemach Slovenia, Telemach Bosnia-Herzegovina and satellite broadcaster Total TV, is one of the latest examples of pay TV consolidation in CEE. Chairman Dragan Solak talked about his plans with DTVE.

Why was the decision taken to combine the existing operating companies SBB, Telemach and others into United Group?

Companies from United Group were already operating under a joint business strategy and coordinated management, but formal consolidation was necessary to increase efficiency, minimise bureaucracy and form a unified shareholding structure.

What plans do you have to create unified services and offerings across the group and to what extent will decisions be left to local managers?

We do plan to create unified services, especially in regard to technology, but we like to be local as well so differences exist and will continue to be there, based on the specificities of each market. Local management already takes part in creating new and redefining existing services at the group level and also gives final touch to services on their respective territories.

What are the major similarities and differences in what consumers are looking for across the territories in which United Group operates?

We consider our territories as one market in both cultural and social aspects, since all of the local content offers are popular across the region. The rest of our business is telecommunications and that is pretty similar across the whole world. All in all we find it very easy to implement our ideas within the region with very few local specifics, if any.

Are you looking to consolidate more smaller operators in the markets in which you are active in the future under the United Group umbrella or would you look to a partnership/wholesale model too?

Our first choice is always to consolidate and we have been doing it successfully for a very long time.

To what extent has the pay TV and triple-play business been hit by the economic downturn and ongoing economic uncertainty in the region?

We have found our industry to be particularly defensive, capable of being very flexible and resilient even in the worst of economic climates. Our services are addressing the basic and core needs of our clients and combined with the right price and quality they prove to be very sticky. The group’s financials reported double-digit growth over the last five years and we plan to continue at the same pace.

What new services are you planning to develop for subscribers in each territory over the next year?

United Group already provides state of the art services similar to any top tier operator anywhere in Europe. Our video product is fully integrated over all available platforms – digital cable, VOD, TV Everywhere etc. – and networks while internet and telephony are leading services in their respective markets.  Obviously our search for better and enhanced customer experience never stops. We will introduce VOD and time shifting services to Bosnia soon, which would be the last step in a technologically unified offer to all our subscribers in the region.

Where does the D3 Go brand and OTT fit into your plans and how do you plan to develop this service? Are you looking primarily to use OTT to target subscribers outside the reach of your fixed network? Will it also be part of a multiscreen/multi-device offering for established pay TV subscribers?

D3 Go is right in the centre of our plans for the future. We find the technology very useful for expanding our service footprint as well as for offering more comfort and flexibility in watching video to our existing clients. We are in the process of developing an OTT service targeting our countrymen across the globe, which they will be able to enjoy in a specially designed channels line-up.

To what extent are customers in the region looking to a single operator to provide multi-play services and how have you addressed this market?

The customer affection for triple and quadruple play offers seems to grow every year and definitely looks to be the predominant model for the future. United Group has developed a quite sophisticated offer of bundled services that spreads not only across the countries, but also features unique advantages for individuals and companies who live/work/operate within more than just one country.

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