Cable in Europe: Where It Is Now, Where It’s Going


I recently chatted with Caroline van Weede, Managing Director of Cable Europe, a trade association that connects leading cable operators and national cable associations within the European Union. Van Weede explained some of the fundamental differences between the cable industries in Europe and the U.S.

FD: Can you tell me a little bit about the make-up of Cable Europe?
CvW: Cable Europe is an association with around 24 members. Since Europe is made up of individual member states, each country has its own set of cable operators–its own regulators, governments, and national cable associations. There are around 6,000 cable systems operating in Europe. Our members are national cable associations or broadband cable TV operators.

What is the association’s mission?
Our mission is to represent the interest of the cable sector towards the European institutions. These institutions consist of the European Commission, the European Parliament and also the Council in which the individual members states are represented. These institutions group all the member states. As you see, the cable sector in Europe is extremely fragmented. That’s why you need a European body like Cable Europe to unite all of these areas. We are the voice for the cable sector in Europe.

What is your major event of the year?
Our version of NCTA’s INTX is Cable Congress. It’s attended by around 800 senior executives in the European cable sector, and other executives who represent the content world down to the manufacturers. Cable Congress is a time in which these executives can share strategic insights.

How is the broadband infrastructure different than in the U.S.? 
In Europe, DSL leads the broadband market. And there are  some countries in Europe with no cable. For example, Italy and Greece don’t have cable in the ground – so that lowers the EU percentage of cable penetration in the market.

“In Europe, DSL leads the broadband market. And there are  some countries in Europe with no cable. “

There’s still quite a digital divide in particular areas where cable is not present. However, everyone in Europe can access basic broadband services when taking into account fixed, mobile, and satellite technologies.

[According to a 2014 report by the European Commission on Broadband in Europe, xDSL covers 93% of Europe, followed by cable at 43%.]

How is Europe’s cable programming faring, and where does it come from?
European TV production is doing very well. Each linguistic region offers content for its areas. For example, in Belgium you will have Flemish content on Flemish TV, which is valued by the subscribers, French in French regions, German in the German regions. When it comes to feature films, the U.S. probably leads there–that’s pretty well established.

[A report by the European Audiovisual Observatory released earlier this year found that 62.1% of feature films on European TV channels were not European. While the statistics are not broken down by country, van Weede says the largest chunk of that portion can be attributed to U.S. films.]

But cable operators in Europe very rarely own TV channels or programmers. In Europe, a cable operator owns its network, provides TV subscriptions, broadband subscriptions, but is not usually engaged in programming, though there are a few exceptions.

Overall, how do people in Europe perceive cable?
Well, the cable sector saw 4.6 percentage of growth in revenue in 2014. The sector reached 21.5 billion euros, which is lower revenue than the U.S., but that’s because subscribers pay much more in the U.S. for their TV subscription and broadband. Much of Europe’s revenue growth came from broadband— broadband revenue grew with 9.1 percent  in 2014.

Our traditional market is TV. We have more competitions in this market. The broadband market was a new market for us to conquer.

More than a third of cable subscribers are in Germany. The German market is very important – the broadband potential is good there because the cable operator in Germany entered the broadband market quite late so they are even still catching up.

What are some of the cable trends in Europe that we might not see here in the U.S.?
In Europe, there are mergers between cable operators and wireless operators occurring. This allows them to combine efforts to offer mobile subscription, broadband, telephony, and television. Traditionally we were offering triple play in Europe. Now quadruple play is being offered in many cases by cable, either as a mobile operator or as a mobile virtual network operator.