VMO2’s inaugural results reinforced the company’s focus on profitability with EBITDA growth of 6% and record margins. Flat revenues year-on-year benefited from the annualisation of the COVID-19 hit but incorporated little by way of rebound.

Much remains to be seen in terms of strategy but indications thus far are reassuring with B2B a clear focus for revenue growth, and the benefits of direct distribution feeding through to profitability.

The company’s decision to build an overlay full fibre network is a bold, but smart, move—allaying justified obsolescence fears about its network, enhancing strategic flexibility, and reducing its cost base.

Viewing habits are changing but live is still central to the TV experience

Television’s biggest shows are amongst the most timeshifted, and therefore have an outsized impact on the decline of live viewing debate

Viewing—not just of news and sport—is still overwhelmingly live, despite differences across genres and broadcasters

With the O2/Virgin Media merger now approved, VodafoneZiggo in the Netherlands may hold clues to their likely approach to the market although their starting point is not quite the same and some lessons may have been learned.

We remain sceptical of the merits of discount-led convergence strategies. The pandemic, however, has eased the route to cross-selling and strengthened the case for convergent technologies.

Virgin Media’s network strategy will be key with significant risks from wholesaling their cable network and from expanding their footprint.

As we expected, UK mobile operators are beginning to introduce EU roaming tariffs, with EE taking the first major leap in the hope that others will follow.

This move is somewhat inevitable as current arrangements leave operators exposed to up to €75 of monthly wholesale charges.

We don't envisage a return to the days of super-normal returns from roaming, but it is nonetheless conducive to much-needed price inflation in the sector.

The last lockdown caused service revenues to dip again to -7% in spite of some easing of roaming pressure and the annualisation of some early pandemic weakness.

The heralded, elevated in-contract price rises will fail to drive higher growth this year due to lower inflation—we estimate zero impact at BT/EE relative to 2020 and a reduction in revenue momentum of around 0.5ppts for each of the other operators.

The annualisation of the first lockdown is the most meaningful upside from here with a boost of around 5-7ppts possible. However, some pandemic upsides will also unwind, notably lower churn and enhanced B2B demand with the latter vulnerable to the end of furlough support and the economy.

Market revenue growth improved to -1.4% in Q1 2021, a partial recovery being better than at any point in 2020, but still worse than at any point in 2019.

Next quarter the sports channel suspensions will lap out, driving strong (but temporary) year-on-year growth.

Longer-term revenue growth recovery will need backbook pricing pressure relief, which will start in Q2, and demand for ultrafast broadband.

The highlight of what seems set to be O2’s final results as a standalone company is OIBDA growth of almost 8% in spite of a drag from weaker net adds.

It has also been a good quarter for O2 strategically with preliminary merger approval and contiguous 5G spectrum although that may be matched by its peers in subsequent deals given H3G’s openness to negotiation.

The annualisation of COVID impacts as well as an improving mobility picture will provide a significant boost to trends, although the roaming drag seems unlikely to reverse any time soon and O2’s relative growth will suffer from lower in-contract price rises than peers this spring.

Virgin Media’s subscriber boom continued into 2021, despite a marked price rise in Q1, benefiting from lockdown and continued demand for higher speed broadband.

ARPU remained weak in Q1, suppressing revenue growth, but this will recover (somewhat) in Q2 as the price rise takes effect, countering the current disconnect between volume and revenue growth.

The merger with O2 is set to complete in June, with much operational pre-merger preparation already done, but the key strategic questions appear yet to be decided.

Market revenue growth sunk back to -3% in Q4 from -2% in Q3, with further backbook pricing and lockdown effects to blame .

Backbook pricing will improve with numerous price increases announced, but these will only start to take effect in Q2 2021.

Demand for broadband and ultrafast looks promising, but will also take time to filter through to revenue, with Q1 again lockdown-affected.