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.

After a strong post-pandemic rebound, Sky has the opportunity to leverage its strong reputation with consumers to meet the challenge posed by new competitors and the studios’ direct-to-consumer transition, establishing Sky Q as the ultimate gatekeeper of video subscription homes.

Sports rights costs in Germany and Italy have been cut significantly, while Sky’s spend on UK Premier League rights will decrease in real terms. Savings will ease the financing of the shift to original content, which, associated with owner Comcast’s NBCU output, anchors the aggregation strategy.

Fibre deployment in the UK and Italy presents a subscriber and revenue growth opportunity, and underpins the gradual shift away from satellite to online content distribution.

The value of certain sports rights can be appraised through three major metrics: the ability to command viewing/engagement, the ability to drive subscriptions incremental to other rights, and the propensity of those subscribers to provide the rights holder with additional revenues.

In this report we examine these three metrics in order to gain an understanding of the tensions in the market, along with the reasons as to why there is competition (or not) for certain rights.

Unsurprisingly, outside of a few primary sports rights, there are an abundance of secondary rights which find it difficult to display their value over others. Their value relies just as heavily on whether rights holders are committing to, or retreating from, major rights.

Sky appears to have weathered the COVID-19 crisis, revealing an encouraging turnaround in its Q3 operating results, with revenue growth flat overall as each stream saw significant improvement from Q2.

Rights costs from a condensed sporting schedule began to hit EBITDA, which remains guided to fall by 60% across H2, with most of the impact in Q4. This was anticipated long ago, and Sky’s ambition remains to double 2020’s EBITDA “over the next several years”.

Having disclosed contrasting performances between its markets, Sky now appears more clearly committed to replicating its UK success in both Italy and Germany, with tangible plans in place to streamline costs and rebalance content expenditure—namely by “resetting” its spend on sports rights.

With a lack of live sport, the lockdown weighed on incumbent pay-TV platforms’ subscriptions. SVOD providers leveraged their cheap positioning—Netflix and Amazon Prime Video now rank above other subscription services in Europe, and Disney+ had a successful launch.

Incumbents—Sky, Canal+, Movistar+—all pursue a twin-track strategy. They are positioning themselves as gatekeepers thanks to service bundles, while redirecting resources away from sports towards original series.

European productions are increasingly garnering audiences outside of their home markets, regardless of the production language. Netflix is a major conduit for European exports, due to personalisation of the interface and high-quality dubbing.

The COVID-19 crisis and suspension of sport has hit Sky hard, with Q2 revenue falling 12.9% year-on-year, and EBITDA (while flat for now) expected to fall 60% in H2 as the rights costs from a condensed schedule hit the bottom line

Underlying trends are hard to discern amidst massive disruption, but the UK remains strong, and increasingly less dependent on sport, with continental Europe a work in progress to repeat this model

Longer-term initiatives continue, with new branded channel launches in the UK, broadband launched in Italy, and scope for further moves in Germany provided by significant sports rights cost savings following recent auctions

The COVID-19 crisis is compounding the already grim revenue prospects for upcoming football rights sales in continental Europe.

The financially weakest leagues in Italy and France are especially exposed. Serie A is exploring deals with private equity firms, with the pros and cons finely balanced.

There is a window of opportunity for Sky and Canal+—the adults in the room—to build coalitions with selected clubs to nudge leagues towards needed reforms including longer licence terms, reducing the number of clubs and more equal revenue splits.

Despite operating in a challenging market, Sky has continued to increase revenues, with the resilient performance of its direct-to-consumer and content businesses offsetting the disappointing drop in advertising income.

Across FY 2019, EBITDA was up 12.2%; profit growth driven by a significant reduction in “other” costs as large one-off effects disappear and cost-cutting continues.

Extended distribution deals with Netflix and WarnerMedia will protect Sky’s content proposition for the coming future, as would the mooted integration of Disney+.

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