Yesterday's third quarter results were broadly in line with market expectations. Analysts have noted that subscriber numbers are stagnant and that ARPU for domestic subscribers was essentially flat, quarter-on-quarter. The growth in broadband subscribers has been a real achievement - but the revenue benefit of adding even 35,000 new subscribers is less than £10m a year. This does not go very far in paying back debts over a thousand times as large.
To the potential US investors in NTL's equity, such as AOL and Liberty, this number must seem absurdly low. Cable businesses of a roughly comparable size in the States are worth tens of billions. We point to the key difference between the US and the UK. Overall ARPU levels are roughly comparable in the States, and capex levels are similar. The crucial difference is probably the systematically higher gross margins on cable TV in the States. This seems to explain most of the difference in cash generating capacity. Can the cable guys from the US increase gross margins on TV programming to US levels and thus make the equity in NTL worth something? We think it is most unlikely - even Sky makes less than a 50% gross margin, far less than a US cable company.