Sunday, June 25, 2006
Baltcom enters mid-teenage
Baltcom, the cable TV, internet and fixed telecommunications company has come a long way since founder Peteris Šmidre and a few other guys spent a sleepless, nervous night individually tuning dozens of German television sets to around 40 channels of cable at the Hotel de Rome in the early 90s. The hotel was Baltkom's (as it called itself at the time) first major customer and the German PAL standard TVs, it seemed, did not auto-tune to the cable channels.
Since then, Baltcom has reached its mid-teens and will be celebrating its 15th birthday on June 29 with a party. The company now has around 150 000 cable subscribers (I am guessing this figure out of my head here in the hammock), as well as a fixed telephony and internet users (quite a few of them on Baltcom's triple-play offer).
Another major accomplishment for Baltcom was launching the second mobile operator in Latvia, now called Tele2. Šmidre made an unsucessful bid for the "third" GSM and UMTS licence that was bought by Bite last year. The "Golden Fish/Zelta zivtiņa" prepaid card brand launched by Baltcom remains one of the strongest trademarks on the Latvian telecoms market, with even rival Okarte cards and the plethora of other pre-paids being called, generically zivtiņas (fish) in popular useage.
Having said that, it doesn't look like Baltcom is planning any major announcements to coincide with its birthday. HDTV has been hinted at, but there is only one real European HD channel, which shows mostly HD demo stuff, nature scenes, mating spiders where you can count the hairs on their legs, etc.
The company may make the rather unspectacular but smart move of repackaging its 103 channels of digital TV into interest group oriented packages. 103 sounds like a lot, but it includes a number of narrow interest and, frankly, weirdo-sounding channels such as the Korean-language Arirang, the Wine Channel and some Russian-language channels dedicated to comedy and ( I am guessing) fishing? Nothing wrong with Russian, since the typical cable TV customer is supposed to be a Russian granny/babushka. But that may change and that certainly isn't where the money is.
Look for Baltcom to repackage more like rival IZZI, which has less channels but definite interest-group (music, science/documentary, news etc.) packages for a moderate subscription fee for each. Lattelecom with its IPTV is also going the low price package route, though they have yet to offer a solution that can be viewed on "real" TV sets through a decoder. Meanwhile, Baltcom internet subscribers on or near the optical network may be offered a form of IPTV.
The more interesting plans are further down the road. By the time Baltcom "comes of age" (at 18), it may well be a pan-Baltic cable/electronic communications operation. My wish, should that happen, is that all programming on PanBaltcom will be original sound with local/Russian subtitling. The Latvian or Russian mumbler/murmulis dubbing the soundtrack must be ended at long last.
I am adding yet another photo from the outdoors (an undisclosed :) plant that has simply sprouted at an undisclosed location). Let's make some hemp butter, anyone??