European mobile revenues remain decidedly in decline this quarter at -2% – a slight worsening since Q2 as the full force of cuts to intra-EU calls hits 

There are signs that dual-brand strategies may be reaching their useful limit as erstwhile premium customers shift to value

There is scope for some trends to slowly improve from here, although end-of-contract notifications will impact all markets before the end of 2020, with the UK first off the blocks in Q1
 

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
 

The UK mobile market suffered its worst performance in six years this quarter as competition heated up and regulation continued to bite

Vodafone’s unlimited tariffs have proven popular, reaching 5% of its contract base in one quarter, helping to drive its outperformance

Some reprieve is in prospect next quarter, before the impact of out-of-contract notifications and automatic discounts from February, although there is the possibility of pre-emptive moves bringing some of the effects forward 
 

With pay-TV competition faltering, UEFA is aiming to stimulate demand for 2021-24 TV rights with early auctions, a possible relaunch of FTA broadcasts, and even, unrealistically, by considering an online service of its own

In the recently completed UK auction, facing no major threat from Sky, BT kept the rights at an almost flat price – probably missing a cost saving opportunity

In the upcoming auctions on the Continent, with former buyers such as SFR, Mediaset and Vodafone having cut back on premium sports, the major platforms’ bids will probably be unchallenged

Vodafone continues to strike a very shareholder-friendly focus and tone but its operating performance remains decidedly muted, with revenue growth up just a touch but EBITDA growth halved

Vodafone’s drive for convergence is still costing it dearly. German mobile ARPU is down 7% and Liberty Global’s assets disappointed on their first consolidation with cashflow enhancement less than half that expected 

Apart from its ill-advised convergence strategy, Vodafone is making many sensible moves and there are indications that its unlimited plans are gaining traction. With leverage tight, pressure is mounting for demonstrable improvements in the financials some time very soon 

Virgin Media had a challenging quarter, with its early price rise driving weak subscriber figures and product spin-down, resulting in reduced revenue growth and an accelerated OCF decline

The market environment remains challenging with very competitive pricing on superfast and little push for ultrafast, but superfast pricing is easing and competitors’ ultrafast pushes should accelerate in 2020

Full fibre roll-outs remain a threat and an opportunity in almost equal measure, with Virgin Media’s positioning likely to be clarified as the regulatory mist clears over the next year

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

In spite of total revenue growth of 4%, O2’s service revenue growth took another step down to -3% this quarter, consistent with the worsening environment and EE’s results 

Its true performance is likely better than reported as IFRS15 has an artificially dampening effect on its service revenue as a consequence of O2’s Custom Plans, and is something of a boost to its impressive 6% EBITDA growth

O2 needs to continue to pedal hard to keep ahead of this challenging environment – with little let-up on the regulatory front, more aggression from Vodafone and H3G, and a potential regulatory hit to its Custom Plans 
 

BT suffered a weak Q2 with revenue and (particularly) EBITDA declines accelerating, but this was mainly down to timing (particularly at Openreach, which will likely recover in Q3), with the company confident in maintaining full year expectations

BT’s fixed broadband business enjoyed some recovery as the pricing environment improves, but will suffer another price timing bump next quarter, and its mobile business is suffering from a tough market environment that is unlikely to improve in the short term

The company is busy re-branding, re-positioning and transforming, but the outlook for football rights costs and fibre roll-out regulation will dominate in the short term, and further bumps (such as the Virgin MVNO contract loss) may emerge

Champions League UK TV rights, at £394m/season, appear to have reached a ceiling, with costs on a per match basis now comparable to the more-desirable Premier League

In the imminent auction, current rightsholder BT is the clear frontrunner. Potential competitors appear reluctant: Sky Sports has thrived since losing the rights in 2015, and no other players can reasonably compete at this spend

This presents BT with a golden opportunity to rein in costs, with a view to moving BT Sport towards breakeven at an important time for the wider business, considering the financial pressure it is facing