Bulgaria competition watchdog clears United Group’s acquisition of Bulsatcom

Bulgaria’s Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) has approved the acquisition of local satellite TV and internet provider Bulsatcom by United Group, the owner of Vivacom, one of the country’s three largest telecom services providers.

CPC’s decision was reported by several Bulgarian media outlets earlier this month, but the heavily-redacted ruling was posted on the regulator’s website late on February 16.

The main objection raised against the deal by Vivacom’s main competitors, Yettel Bulgaria and A1 Bulgaria, was that it would hand Vivacom a market share above 50 per cent of the subscribers on the TV services market.

Both Yettel Bulgaria and A1 Bulgaria provide such services, but their market share is significantly lower than Vivacom and Bulsatcom, which are the largest two providers in the country, combining for more than 60 per cent of total subscribers, according to the most recent study by Bulgaria’s Communications Regulation Commission (CRC), based on 2022 data.

In its ruling, CPC argued that CRC’s data was too restrictive and did not take into account subscribers of streaming services such as Netflix or TV and satellite services providers from neighbouring countries like Greece or Turkey, which can be used in parts of Bulgaria.

As such, the total TV services subscription market in Bulgaria was about 2.5 million, rather than two million, as indicated by the latest CRC report, CPC said. Using this figure as the baseline, the Vivacom and Bulsatcom’s combined market share was less than 50 per cent, the competition regulator said.

In a dissenting opinion, one of the members of the CPC said that the regulator’s inclusion of streaming services in the TV subscribers market was unjustified, given the very different nature of the services, as well as the fact that some streaming services (such as HBO Max) are included in TV providers’ packages, meaning those subscribers were counted twice.

CPC also ordered the immediate execution of the merger, citing damages to the companies involved and the public interest if the deal were to be delayed by a protracted legal appeal.

The regulator’s ruling can be appealed within 14 days at the Sofia District Administrative Court. Media reports said that Yettel Bulgaria has already done so, but the court rejected the appeal to stop block the immediate execution of the merger.

(Photo: Nedko/flickr.com)

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