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

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

 

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.

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

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

TalkTalk sustained positive broadband net adds in the June quarter, adding 20k to its base, largely driven by reduced churn, which was largely driven by re-contracting a large proportion of existing customers onto its new cheaper bundles

Unfortunately, this had a negative effect on revenue growth, with Group revenue growth (ex-carrier) dropping to -3.2%, as the new cheaper bundle adoption diluted ARPU, but the company remains confident that revenue growth will turn positive for the full financial year as the ARPU dilution effect annualises out

The company recently announced a price rise due in August of around 5-6% for customers not on its new cheaper bundles (around 38% of its total broadband base), which will help with the ARPU turnaround, but may make maintaining positive broadband net adds more challenging

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