UK residential communications market revenue growth dipped to 2.1% in Q3. While volume growth continued to decline, the main driver was weakening ARPU growth, which was partly caused by price rise timing effects but there was also an underlying contribution

Longer term, slowing market volume growth has contributed to the market revenue growth drop over the last year, but slowing ARPU growth is also playing its part, and maintaining ARPU growth is becoming a major challenge for the operators given the discounting required to win and retain customers

Looking forward, price rise timings will continue to cause short-term revenue growth fluctuations, but the main long-term factor will be the trajectory of subscriber ARPU, and whether any growth in this can be sustained

Virgin Media’s subscriber figures were flat on the prior year quarter, a robust performance in a slowing and increasingly competitive market, with ARPU growth still weak but at least not worsening

Project Lightning had another successful quarter, accelerating strongly and passing an additional 147k premises, which bodes well for subscriber acceleration into 2018

A recently implemented price increase should boost ARPU growth next quarter, on the basis that it successfully limits the retention discounting that characterised last year’s price increase, but such a boost will be limited by wider market pricing pressures

21CF’s bid for 100% ownership of Sky has been referred for a Phase 2 investigation to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which will decide by 6 March 2018

Third parties Avaaz and Ed Miliband MP complain of the influence of the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) and family members over the UK’s news agenda and political process 

A remedy could insulate Sky News from this influence. The offer of a Sky News Editorial Board at Phase 1 was refused. Third parties will ensure the debate in Phase 2 is very lively

Sky made a strong start to fiscal 2018, with improved customer net adds across each of its markets versus the previous quarter, as well as group revenue growth at 5%

Operating profits switched back to growth, after the negative Premier League effect annualised out, with it now settled at the full cost of £1.4 billion per year. EBITDA growth hit 11%, or 15% excluding the effect of UK mobile and the Spanish OTT launch

Against the backdrop of continued uncertainty around the UK advertising market, attention has turned to the upcoming Premier League auction, though we think it unlikely that digital players will cause disruption

UK residential communications market revenue growth bounced up to 3.6% in Q2, a full 1.4ppt improvement on the previous quarter and reversing the downwards trend of the previous two quarters. However, this was entirely driven by price rises at BT and Sky, with the ongoing market volume growth decline continuing at pace

In competitive terms, TalkTalk was the only operator able to improve its broadband net adds on a year earlier, and Virgin Media was solid with only a modest decline, leaving BT and Sky shouldering the worst of the slowdown, albeit with neither company doing particularly poorly given the market context

New customer pricing remains tight, with Virgin Media in particular becoming more competitive. Looking forward, we expect volumes to continue to slow, and for the pricing boost enjoyed in Q2 to largely drop out next quarter, leading to a renewed revenue growth slowdown

Virgin Media’s subscriber figures in Q2 were a little mixed, with total homes and broadband figures weaker than a year earlier, but pay TV much stronger. ARPU growth fell though, largely due to price increase timing effects, leading to a modest dip in revenue growth

Project Lightning premises passed during the quarter rose to 127k, making at least some progress towards upping its run-rate after changing its roll-out management team and approach, the company declined to give indications of how this will evolve

The broader market context is still one of slowing broadband volume growth, and Virgin Media continues to take market share, being the fastest growing of the ‘big 4’ in both subscriber and RGU volumes

Sky's full year results for fiscal 2017 are largely in line with company guidance on revenues, costs and synergies given on Investor Day last October, while the company expects further progress in fiscal 2018

Operating profits were badly hit by the massive increase of £629 million in annual payments to the Premier League, however, due to revenue and cost efficencies elsewhere, they fell by just £97 million, testifying to the overall strength of the Sky business

The results presentation revealed a clear sense of strategic direction, supported by much glossy and positive detail, yet revealed relatively little about the headwinds that Sky and other pay-TV operators now face, including the evident decline in Sky UK DTH subscriptions

Across Europe, markets are becoming more competitive. Incumbent pay-TV paltforms (e.g. Sky or Canal+) face increasing threats from both internet-based services (e.g. Netflix and Amazon), and telecoms operators

Telecoms providers are proving the most potent challengers as they enter the premium football rights market to create attractive triple and quad play bundles – examples include BT, SFR and Telefónica. The latter is now the main pay-TV operator in Spain whereas France’s Canal+ has entered into a strategic alliance with Orange

Across the top five markets (UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy), Sky remains the leading operator with an estimated 21.5m video subscribers, twice as many as Netflix

 

Secretary of State (SoS) Karen Bradley has made an initial decision to refer 21CF’s bid for Sky to the Competition Markets Authority (CMA) for a detailed consideration of media plurality concerns, to be finalised in the near future

The issue at hand is the potential increase in the influence of the members of the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) over the UK’s news agenda and political process. The SoS rejected the remedy for Sky News brokered by Ofcom

Ofcom’s non-negative decision on the fitness and propriety of 21CF to hold Sky’s broadcast licences cleared another hurdle in the event the merger is finally accepted

UK residential communications market revenue growth dipped 0.6ppts in Q1, from 3.3% in the previous quarter. This was mainly driven by ARPU weakness arising due to the timings of Sky and Virgin Media’s price rises, but weakness also stemmed from the sustained decline in broadband volume growth and continued new customer price competition

In competitive terms, BT and Sky suffered as a result of communicating price rises in the quarter, Virgin Media had a strong quarter if not quite as good as it was expecting, and TalkTalk manged to recover to positive retail broadband net adds at the expense of high marketing costs

BT, Liberty Global and TalkTalk issued profit warnings in the quarter, all of which were at least loosely related to increasing pressures in the consumer market. We expect these pressures – a slowing broadband market, an expanding Virgin Media, and a stabilising TalkTalk – to continue