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Com Hem picks up 220,000 Swedish homes as Telenor bales out of cable

It was only a matter of time before Sweden’s Com Hem became the automatic owner of the Canal Digital cable TV lines that run through Sweden

By PETER WHITE

Published: 23 June, 2011

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It was only a matter of time before Sweden’s Com Hem became the automatic owner of the Canal Digital cable TV lines that run through Sweden. Telenor’s Canal Digital has been committed to offering TV over both satellite and cable, but in January sold its declining cable arm in Denmark to Ratos, a company that had already acquired the cable assets of TeliaSonera in Denmark to take second place there in cable after TDC.

Since that point it has looked like Telenor would focus on growing its satellite business, leaving it 201,000 TV homes (220 total cable connected homes) to dispose of in Sweden, which have now gone to Com Hem and a more significant 483,000 cable customers in its native Norway, where it is the dominant cable supplier ahead of GET, with around 410,000 homes.

The payment of 85 million Swedish Krona, or $13.4 million is a pittance, with each cable home changing hands for about $61. Recent deal values for ISP customers with or without pay TV are usually closer to $1,000 and we’ve only seen as low as $400, which gives us an idea of how stressed and analog the business must be. In fact on first glance we thought there must be at least one zero missing from the amount paid.

We assume that most of the network remains analog, and that a large investment is needed to open the cable up to broadband, otherwise the price would have been far higher and Com Hem, which has a history of staying ahead of the digital curve, will probably mark out a 3 year program to bring it up to speed by converting each customer over to its superior digital network. Com Hem took on the entire company including personnel. A small IPTV division will also go as part of the sale, but Com Hem will resell those customers to AllTele. Com Hem has around 623,000 TV homes prior to the deal, so this should jump it close to 850,000.

The transaction will have no problems getting approval from the Swedish Competition Authority, because although Com Hem may be dominant now in cable, it’s not in pay TV overall. In total there were 2.2 million pay TV homes in Sweden at the end of 2010.

If the Canal Digital CEO, Mats Almgren is to be believed the company wants to be a pure satellite business throughout the Nordics which means that the larger Norwegian business could also change hands. That’s perhaps a better run, more profitable venture, so this fire-sale pricing may not need to be repeated for that deal, although the natural buyer is GET.

Com Hem is controlled by the Carlyle Group and Providence Equity Partners and has been since 2006, and we would expect that as European IPO valuations come up, and there is more confidence in cable, that it would go public in Sweden, especially since it seems to have finally come to terms with its poor service reputation among customers. However in Germany the IPO of Kabel Deutschland has led to a falling value, and in the Netherlands Ziggo has pulled its IPO recently, do to volatile trading conditions, so it won’t be very soon.

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