Crisis sends pay-TV penetration rates soaring

Few industries in crisis-gripped Greece can boast the growth that pay TV has shown over the last two or three years, helped by a major increase in competition along with a variety of options offered to subscribers combined with broadband Internet. However, the main force behind local households’ swing toward subscription channels has been the six-year recession itself.

Greek viewers have three pay TV options to choose from: Nova, OTE TV and On TV, via satellite or cable. When pay TV arrived in Greece in the mid-1990s, terrestrial channels FilmNet and SuperSport, the forerunners of Nova, had a near monopoly, bringing viewers premium content at a rather steep price compared with similar packages abroad, while any efforts by competitors to Nova’s satellite platform would not make any headway for at least 15 years.

Using soccer rights and the latest movies as the main crowd-pullers, by the start of this decade Nova had managed to build a subscription base of about 300,000 households, but the penetration rate was far from satisfactory. All this changed with the growth of broadband Internet and the supply of combined telephony, Internet and pay-TV services, or triple play, first offered by On Telecoms (On TV).

The creation of Conn-X TV by the Hellenic Communications Organization (OTE) in 2009 offered viewers a cheap alternative to Nova, but only on cable. OTE got its big break when in 2011 it rebranded Conn-X TV as OTE TV, penetrated the satellite market along with its cable offering, and embarked on an aggressive policy of buying sports rights and offering cut-price packages. “This has boosted competition, supplied more quality options and increased subscriptions in Greece,” Sofia Marinou, a senior media relations officer at OTE, told Kathimerini English Edition.

As a result Nova, owned by listed company Forthnet, rendered its pricing policy more flexible and offered its own version of triple play that has become quite popular in recent months, while OTE saw its subscription numbers rise rapidly. Pay TV penetration soared, reaching 11 percent in 2011 and climbing to 17-18 percent in 2013, an unthinkable rate five years ago. Nova posted a rise of over 12 percent year-on-year at end-June, reaching up to 430,000 subscribers, according to sources, while OTE TV has now exceeded 240,000 subscribers, having doubled its customer base in less than 11 months. On TV also has a few thousand cable subscribers, bringing the total figure to about 700,000. And just think: all this in a crisis-wracked country.

In fact, it is the crisis itself that has been the main driver behind that rise. “The slide in disposable incomes has resulted in a drop in those seeking entertainment outside the home. But people still had to find something to do at home, so the entertainment that we provide was their best choice,” Nova spokesman Harry Botsaris told Kathimerini English Edition. After all, this is a pattern that has been abserved in other countries, such as the US.

The crisis has also had another impact in Greeks’ viewing habits as it has severely affected the quality of free-to-air channel content: “There is no comparison between the quality of free [terrestrial] channels two years ago and what they offer today; there has been a considerable decline,” said Giorgos Xanthopoulos, On Telecoms marketing communications manager.

Botsaris agrees, saying, “The present FTA choices do not satisfy fully the viewers’ requirements and their need for advanced options for TV consumption.” The growing penetration of triple play, according to Botsaris, and the supply of more technologically advanced services, according to Marinou, are expected to boost subscription numbers even further from next year.

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