Baltkom TV, Latvia's largest cable TV operator, says it will experimentally offer a high-definition television channel on its digital cable network, as well as double the number of channels to more than 100.
The HDTV programming will be taken from Euro1080. The company will also offer an interactive TV guide (interactive, probably, in the sense that the de-coder will open program schedules for each digital channel on demand).
On the telecoms side, Baltkom's director-general Peteris Smidre says that the optical cable to Sweden he bought last year (bailing out the ill-fated Foco 16 project run by a former head of Stockholm's Stokab and some Russian entrepreneurs who turned out to be, well, worth the Powerpoint slides their plans were printed on :) ) now carries around 10 to 15 % of the data traffic "in that direction". It would seem that the cable is at least partly or wholly paying for itself. Prices, however, are going down.
Smidre isn't disturbed by Lattelekom's plans to implement IPTV. He sees these as potentially very expensive, since a basic 512 kbps DSL internet connection costs more per month (around LVl 15) than Baltkom's planned premium digital service at LVL 13.50 per month. It will take a lot more than 512 kbps to the home to carry IPTV, Smidre says, so Lattelekom will essentially have to dump prices on its DSL service.
Rival cable operators note that Smidre's 100 channels aren't a competitive threat, since they believe they will be mostly free to air stuff that nobody wants to watch. However, my sources close to Baltkom say there will be some MTV digital and Baltkom's own movie channels.
Baltkom is also thinking of offering some kind of "pay by the day" deal, like in hotels, where a set program of very new movies (and, at hotels, erotica) can be had for a flat daily fee. The trouble is, this costs around GBP 10 upwards, say, in Britain, where a DVD with just one film (not the five or six movies plus hours of sexual acrobatics you could see if you sat and watched all day) costs about the same - say GBP 12. In Latvia, a DVD from "the guy around the corner" -- the one whom you ask very few questions – costs around LVL 3 to LVL 5 at most.
Which reminds me, every since my day job office moved from the Press Building in Riga, we are no longer visited by a young man I started calling the baraholschik. This is a phonetic rendering of a Slavic-sounding word taken from a dictionary of 1930s Latvian criminal slang (reprinted in a history of the Latvian police). A baraholschik is one who sells things that do not belong to him, usually of trashy quality. Our baraholschik was not so bad, just I had one DVD from him that "ended" when a tall black man got up in front of the image and put on his hat (apparently, this lap-camera work was done in the US or Britain, where you see moviegoers of various races).