Video services

Does Europe Really Love IPTV?

11:40 AM -- At first glance, the numbers issued this week by the Broadband Forum for telco TV growth in the first quarter of 2009 are impressive: In Eastern Europe, IPTV subscriptions grew by more than 109 percent year-over-year; and in Western Europe, the annual growth was a very healthy 46 percent. (See Europe Tops Broadband Charts.)

Big numbers, for sure. But do percentages tell the true story?

At the end of March this year, according to the statistics collated by Point Topic Ltd. for the Forum, there were about 1,160,000 IPTV users in Eastern Europe, compared with about 550,000 a year earlier.

That's an average growth per month for the whole of Eastern Europe of about 610,000 IPTV subscribers, a growth number that isn't nearly as impressive as the annual percentage increase.

Clearly it's a positive -- the number is increasing, after all -- but it isn't time to crack open the fizzy pop just yet, even if some markets are doing well. (See In Slovenia, IPTV Is Hot.)

In Western Europe there were, according to Point Topic, nearly 11.4 million IPTV subscribers at the end of March this year, up from about 7.8 million a year earlier. That's an increase of 3.6 million, or 300,000 per month.

Western Europe is home to some of the world's biggest IPTV players, including Orange (NYSE: FTE), its French rivals Iliad (Euronext: ILD) and SFR (formerly Neuf Cegetel), Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), Belgacom SA (Euronext: BELG), and Telia Company , and some very competitive markets, such as France and Italy -- so is that a growth number that should set any hearts beating faster?. (See T Italia Set to Take IPTV Crown, Belgacom Set for IPTV Overhaul, France Telecom Reports 2008, and Euro Carriers Grow Cojones.)

Maybe yes, maybe no. There seems no doubt that Europe's IPTV subscriber numbers will continue to rise, but it's also worth noting, though, that during the first three months of this year, Telefónica's IPTV subscriber base actually shrank by 7,675. (See IPTV to Grab Euro Pay TV Share.)

While that's unlikely to be anything other than a short-term blip, it does suggest that IPTV might just not be as enticing as Europe's operators are hoping it will be. And with so many carriers relying on value-added services such as IPTV to make up for the ongoing decrease in traditional voice revenues, that may just be something of a concern.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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