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

Mobile service revenue growth dipped this quarter but this was likely entirely due to the predictable (and predicted) impact of the abolition of EU roaming surcharges.  On an underlying basis, growth improved

BT/EE extended its lead in both service revenue and contract subscriber growth terms. EE’s substantial investments in network quality and customer service have driven returns to scale, and its multi-brand approach is working well

Contrasting with the returns to scale seen at EE, TalkTalk’s MVNO has suffered the reverse of this, unable to break-even despite peaking at just shy of 1 million customers, and deciding to retreat to an agency model.  Sky Mobile is performing respectably well in context, but may be headed for scale issues itself

TalkTalk continued to maintain positive broadband net adds in Q2 despite increased churn, and its on-net revenue growth turned positive as well, helped by the turnaround in subscriber growth trends and an overlapping price increase implemented during the quarter

The return to growth is taking its toll in marketing costs however, and the company is now guiding to a full year ‘headline’ EBITDA at the lower end of its previous given range, and this is after redefining ‘headline’ to exclude losses from its winding-down mobile business

Even this looks challenging given the cost trends in the first half of the year. The company’s new strategy of subscriber growth and focusing on the basics is probably the right one, but it is proving tough to implement in a slowing and increasingly competitive market

 

BT Group revenue growth dipped to -1.5% from an instance of rare modest positive growth in the previous quarter, albeit mostly due to a predicted price timing effect in Consumer and revenue growth predictably going from bad to worse in Global Services

The bright spots were continued strong 4% revenue growth at EE, with an acceleration in mobile-related revenue also helping other divisions, and strong growth of 5% in external revenues at Openreach driven by accelerating fibre adoption by competitor customers

A number of very important regulatory/policy/legal issues remain unresolved, including 5G spectrum auction rules, leased line pricing, FTTC pricing and FTTP roll-out rules, but without a number of these going BT’s way the outlook remains tough for at least the next 18 months

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

The Federal Communications Commission’s Privacy Order (FCC) was overturned by the Senate, clearing the way for ISPs to ramp up consumer data-driven advertising revenue.

While Google and Facebook dominate digital advertising in the US as in other markets, the US is alone in removing regulatory barriers to ISPs taking a piece of the pie.

US ISPs now have a self-regulatory regime for consumer rights on transparency, security and data breaches; but in the UK and EU, privacy advocates prefer enforceable rights.

Mobile service revenue growth continued to improve on a reported basis, but most of this improvement came from a significant dip in the MTR cut drag. EE remained the leader in terms of service revenue growth, with both the strongest ARPU growth and robust contract net adds

The quarter also benefited from the current round of in-contract price increases, which were more widespread and at a higher level than last year, and from a brief holiday in the impact of roaming cut regulation, the impact of which will strongly reverse in Q3 as ‘free roaming’ impacts the whole quarter at the same time as mobile users take their actual holidays

Recent spectrum announcements have far from clarified the auction outlook, with Ofcom deciding on a more restrictive spectrum cap than its initial views but both H3G and EE appealing its decision. It will likely be some time before all 5G spectrum auction rules are resolved, let alone actually holding the auctions or building the networks

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

BT Group revenue returned to growth, at least temporarily, helped by overlapping price rises in consumer, one-off regulated price cuts on leased lines annualising out, and mobile handset sales improving

Regulatory news was unusually positive, with Openreach taking the initiative on FTTP, and BT winning an appeal against damaging leased line regulation, which may end up being significantly eased

BT continues to do well in consumer and struggle in business markets, with the ongoing deceleration in the consumer broadband market the main cloud on the horizon