Going from basketcase to top of the class
Published 05/01/2013 | 05:00
IRELAND'S cable industry went through a structural upheaval between 1999 and 2005. Liberty Global made its initial foray into the market when it acquired a 50pc stake in TV operator Chorus in 2004 from Independent News & Media. But Liberty Global had its sights set on an even bigger prize.
Just a year later, it bought the NTL operation in Ireland, giving it access to a much wider consumer base.
With deep pockets, Liberty Global handed over money that enabled UPC to build the kind of network Eircom had only talked about.
The incumbent had become increasingly hamstrung by massive debts that eventually touched €4bn and saw the company enter examinership last year. That debt pile has now been reduced to about €2.3bn.
So what has helped UPC grow its market share? Having spent a fortune on a network upgrade helps, obviously. Its broadband speeds are way beyond anything rivals can offer. But it has also aggressively gone after Eircom customers.
UPC has also had strong management embedded in Ireland. Dana Strong's predecessor, Robert Dunn, was well regarded in the industry, while Ohio-born Strong has significant experience in Australia. She was the chief operating officer of satellite TV subscription operator Austar for eight years. Liberty Global sold Austar last year.
But UPC has a significant advantage over Eircom. It is designated by telecoms watchdog ComReg as the Universal Service Provider in Ireland. That means it has to adhere to some stringent operating conditions.
And while UPC has done well in snatching business from Eircom, it's a tougher battle against BskyB. The broadcaster has about 700,000 subscribers in Ireland to its TV services – significantly more than UPC.