Market revenue growth fell in Q3 to below 1%, and may drop below zero next quarter as existing customer pricing comes under more pressure

New customer pricing is however rising, and average pricing should rise much further as ultrafast increases in availability and popularity 

Political enthusiasm for full fibre should be welcomed, although some specific plans are likely to do more harm than good if implemented literally
 

TalkTalk enjoyed impressive EBITDA growth of 14% in H1 19/20, despite revenue growth pitching down sharply in Q2, and gross margin falling due to the rapid adoption of high speed broadband

The fall in costs was driven by a combination of good expense control and lower subscriber acquisition costs, in part due to improved efficiency, but in part due to a falling subscriber base, which is not a sustainable route to earnings growth

While the current dynamics are challenging, market prices have been firming recently, and should firm further as ultrafast becomes more popular, but TalkTalk needs to move to a more premium pricing position to take full advantage

While Sky’s overall revenues continue to rise, Q3’s growth was hampered by a significant fall in advertising revenue and to a lesser extent a slowdown in content sales

Underlying EBITDA growth was in the mid-teens. Next quarter, Sky will continue to benefit from lower Premier League rights costs versus last season, and profit appears on track to meet full year guidance

Q3 saw a rare decline in Sky’s total number of customers due to the conclusion of Game of Thrones. Sky clearly understands the value of unique content—recently extending its HBO deal. In our view, this was essential, since without a distribution deal for Disney+ (launching in the UK in March) Sky would lose Disney’s alluring content

New SVOD entrants are prioritising reach over revenue in the US with extensive ‘free’ offers, including Apple TV+ (to hardware buyers), Disney+ (to Verizon customers), HBO Max (to HBO subscribers) and Comcast’s Peacock (to basic cable homes)

This is the latest development in an unfolding global story of partnerships, continuing on from multiple Netflix and Amazon distribution deals with platforms, bringing benefits to both parties

In Europe, Sky faces price pressure, but it has secured its HBO partnership and can now talk to Disney from a position of strength

With a raft of new streaming services about to hit, there remains a question as to the appetite for multiple subscriptions

Pay-TV subscribers continue to be more likely to take SVOD services—especially when they are distributed on their set-top boxes—however the average number of services per household is well below one

Greater variety and quality of services will likely increase the average number of subscriptions but given the siloing nature of these services, Netflix’s incumbency, library and distribution are its strength; new entrants will battle for a supplementary role

Mobile sector returns are low, particularly for smaller-scale operators, with H3G earning less than its cost of capital. Regulatory initiatives, spectrum auctions and 5G look set to worsen this picture as H3G strives to gain viable scale

Back-book pricing is crucial to the returns of fixed challengers. Regulatory intervention is likely to lead to a waterbed effect in the fixed sector and exacerbate challenges in mobile

New entrant business case in full fibre is limited to de facto monopoly opportunities. There is the potential for BT’s returns to increase markedly if it gets full fibre right but new entrants’ inferior economics are unlikely to offer sufficient investor appeal

Market revenue growth bounced back to all of 1% in Q2 after near zero in the previous quarter, with broadband volumes at a near standstill

Operators appear resigned to this however, with new customer pricing appearing to recover, and wholesale price cuts not to be repeated

On the downside, further regulatory and commercial pressure on existing customer pricing is likely, and pricing détentes are often short lived

TalkTalk suffered subscriber losses and falling consumer revenue growth in Q1, with churn still high despite the high speed base growing, countered by ARPU growing for the first time since 2017TalkTalk suffered subscriber losses and falling consumer revenue growth in Q1, with churn still high despite the high speed base growing, countered by ARPU growing for the first time since 2017

The subscriber drop was, however, modest and looks quite deliberate, with there being evidence of price firming in both direct and indirect channels supporting both ARPU and margin

This more cautious approach, if it can be sustained, puts the company on a much more healthy footing in our view, allowing it to achieve its financial targets without increasingly unsustainable existing customer price rises

Market revenue growth dipped to around zero in Q1, with fierce competition on new customer pricing the major factor

All four of the big operators now suffer from declining ARPU, with existing customer price rises increasingly hard to land given falling prices for new customers

The rapid move to superfast is not helping as much as it should; the operators will hope that they fare better with the move to ultrafast

TalkTalk hit the bottom end of its (revised) 2018/19 EBITDA guidance, an achievement given fierce price competition and the margin-dilutive effect of high speed upgrades

This is however helped by one-off Openreach price cuts, and price rises for ancillary products (voice calls and pay-TV) and out-of-contract customers that look hard to sustain

Subscriber growth slowed dramatically in Q4, and continuing this more measured approach could help the company counter multiple market pressures, and perhaps even lead to a détente in the current price wars