Revenue decline accelerated in Q2 as the cost-of-living crisis appears to be impacting UK sales, but profits remained strong thanks to last summer’s Continental sports rights reset.

In Italy, DAZN will return on Sky’s platform just in time for the new Serie A football season, filling a key gap in its aggregation strategy.

Looking forward, thanks to its enhanced profitability, Sky has the flexibility to respond to the economic downturn using pricing and content.

  • Under a revised deal, DAZN, the Serie A broadcaster, is now allowed to expand its distribution to the Sky platform in return for a reduced fee from TIM, the incumbent telco
  • The new-look Italian market is consistent with DAZN’s approach elsewhere in Europe, seeking blanket distribution and avoiding head on challenges with incumbents
  • For the Italian sports rights market, the agreements clear the air, but Serie A needs deep reform

With the cost-of-living crisis expected to worsen over the coming months, the telecoms operators must walk a fine line—support customers but protect their financial performance in the face of a likely recession and rising costs.

We are likely to see weakness on the B2B side and consumers will look for ways to reduce out-of-bundle spend, seek retention discounts and spin down to lower speed tiers and data bundles, but we expect that dropping services completely will hold limited appeal.

Proactive retention activity and promotional pricing is likely to pay off more than slashing headline prices, and will help to avoid a damaging price war—a far bigger risk to their revenues than spin-down.

Sky continued to grow its UK revenue thanks to price rises, mobile customer additions, and a rebound from lost hospitality business in early 2021, but this was still outweighed by the recent reset of its Italian operation.

Aggregation remains a core focus, with Paramount+, and Magenta Sport in Germany, added to Sky’s bundles, while fibre rollout will intensify with the launch of Sky Stream puck as a standalone device later this year.

Declining buying power raises uncertainty over consumer behaviour: in previous recessions, pay-TV performed well, but today subscribers have more video options than ever before.

Whilst we remain sceptical of the churn reduction benefits of fixed/mobile convergence, the pandemic and a more astute approach from the operators is enhancing the case for it in the UK.

Creating the impression of a giveaway whilst minimizing the effective discount is key, as is extracting any loyalty and cost benefits.

Even if well executed, any upsides are likely to be modest. Operators are right to keep discounts to a minimum and to avoid M&A premia predicated on fixed/mobile convergence synergies.

Sky’s performance across 2021 significantly improved, driven in Q4 by a nice c.5% growth rate in UK consumer revenues and the advertising rebound, but effects of the pandemic are still being felt with EBITDA down 30% on 2019.

The decline in Group revenue accelerated in Q4 due to the severe shock to the Italian operation from its loss of most premium football coverage, although we see upsides in a possible rights reshuffle.

In 2022, Sky can leverage growth vectors including bigger content bundles, Glass, advertising innovations and broadband. Consolidating SVOD and telecoms markets may be more favourable to price increases.

Higher overall inflation, together with a bigger mark-up than in previous years for some, is implying significant in-contract price increases for the UK telecoms operators—an average of 7.7% for the mobile operators.

Although we may see a 5-6% short-term boost to mobile service revenue growth from these price increases, new-customer pricing remains crucial and could erode the boost from these in-contract rises entirely.

We have been surprised by Ofcom’s interventions to discourage these price increases. The industry needs all the help it can get to fund next generation 5G and full fibre networks, and these in-contract price increases are no guarantee that prices and revenues overall will start to rise.

The UK net neutrality rules are up for review; as usual, the operators are pressuring for relaxation, and there are strong arguments that the competitiveness of UK telecoms markets make such rules innovation-quashing with no consumer benefit.

The chances of mainstream video content providers producing a windfall for telcos are slim, but there are a host of more intensely commercial content providers which have far greater potential to pay extra money for higher quality content delivery.

Future services such as virtual and augmented reality will stretch even FTTP/5G networks; allowing the telcos to develop custom business models to facilitate their delivery may well speed up the development and implementation of the metaverse in the UK.

Sky has started to reap benefits from its substantial reduction in sports rights costs in Italy and Germany, helping to grow group EBITDA by 76% in Q3, despite a slight drop in revenue.

With this change in strategy, the business model in Italy is undergoing an upheaval. Meanwhile, the UK continues to perform well, with further promise on the horizon thanks to the bold launch of Sky Glass.

This streaming TV is a future-proofing leap forwards in Sky’s ever-more-central aggregation strategy, starting the business down the long path to retiring satellite, though this is probably still over a decade away.

Sky’s revenue was up 15% in Q2, back to pre-COVID levels despite some lingering pandemic effects such as most pubs and clubs remaining closed. EBITDA fell by a third, driven by higher costs from sports rights, since very few live sports events took place in Q2 2020.

The impact of “resetting” football rights is already evident in Germany and Italy, with 248k net customer losses across the group despite growth in the UK. However, Sky will make substantial savings, and we expect this will more than offset lost revenues.

Meanwhile, Sky continues to strike deals with other content providers, solidifying its position as the leading household entertainment gatekeeper. In time, apps for NBCU’s Peacock, ViacomCBS’ Paramount+, ITV Hub, and, in Germany, RTL TV Now and DAZN, will all be aggregated within Sky Q.