Broadband market volume growth resumed its downward trend in the September quarter after a blip in the previous quarter that was likely caused by a wholesale transfer distorting the figures. Revenue growth, however, perked up to 1.9% from 1.7% in the previous quarter, an encouraging recovery especially given that it was not primarily driven by the timing of a price increase

ARPU growth improved across all four of the major operators, countering recent trends, with a focus on higher value offerings a common theme. High speed broadband adoption accelerated in the quarter across most operators, encouraged by Openreach’s volume discount offer, although this was partially driven by keener high speed pricing

Revenue growth at Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk converged at around 3%, with BT Consumer lagging at -1%. However, excluding the effect of BT’s shrinking telephony-only base and smoothing the sporadic boost of its 9-monthly price rise, BT Consumer’s revenue is in the middle of the pack at 3.0% 

With sport at the heart of the pay-TV ecosystem, dedicated online-only streaming services could emerge as a threat to leading players like Sky 

The liveliest newcomer, DAZN, launched in 2016 with mostly second-tier sports. Now in seven markets and counting, it has recently made bold moves into top-flight competitions, notably in Italy, albeit as a secondary player 

History has not been kind to those challenging pay-TV incumbents by selling sports unbundled—particularly in Europe, as Setanta, ESPN, beIN SPORTS and Mediaset can testify. If DAZN can stick to secondary positions in premium rights, or simply less-expensive sports, perhaps it will fare better 

When its acquisition of 21st Century Fox closes, Disney will own 60% of Hulu. If it bought Comcast’s 30% stake (and WarnerMedia’s 10%), it could fully leverage the platform for its US direct-to-consumer strategy

Comcast’s Hulu stake has little strategic value to it. We argue it should sell to Disney in exchange for long-term supply deals for ESPN, as well as for the upcoming Disney+ and Hulu, similar to its recent pacts with Amazon Prime and Netflix

This could naturally be extended to Sky in Europe depending on whether Disney decides to launch all direct-to-consumer or sticks with pay-TV in certain markets

There is a belief in some quarters that there is space for a myriad of large SVOD services in the UK. We question whether there is room for more than the current three pacesetters; Netflix, Amazon and NOW TV

Like the UK, the US market is dominated by three services, and there is evidence of an appetite for further offerings. But the US market is conspicuously different to the UK's, with the forces behind cord-cutting in the States less apparent this side of the Atlantic

Potential domestic UK services would struggle to compete with the resources—supported by debt-funded and loss-leading models—that foreign tech giants can marshal

The ban on pre-9pm TV ads for HFSS (high in fat, salt or sugar) products being considered by the Government would not play a constructive or quantifiable role in reversing the UK’s rising childhood obesity rates. 

The ban on HFSS product ads since 2008 around children’s programming has not impeded the inexorable rise of childhood obesity. In 2010, Ofcom termed an HFSS watershed ban ‘disproportionate’ and ‘ineffective’. 

In 2018, a watershed ban would be even less effective. Children’s linear broadcast TV viewing is down by half since 2010, mainly to YouTube’s advantage, which benefits from light-touch HFSS regulation.
 

Comcast’s £30.6 billion acquisition of Sky brings to an end the long-running ownership battle since Disney agreed to tender Fox’s 39% stake to Comcast, also ending the Murdoch Family Trust’s interest in Sky

Comcast’s US domestic cable and global NBCU media businesses complement Sky’s European operation. Sky’s telecoms business is likely to expand, while the TV side should benefit from NBCU’s global distribution might, with greater revenues generated by its original content

Fox’s long-running battle with UK regulators over the public interest dimensions of the proposed Sky acquisition has also ended. Plurality of media is preserved by Comcast’s undertakings to support Sky News for 10 years

UK broadband subscriptions re-accelerated in Q2, bucking a three-year downward trend, but market revenue growth still fell as BT’s overlapping price increase dropped out and all of the operators continued to struggle to meaningfully grow ARPU

Regular existing customer price increases and continued (but slowing) migration to high speed are being cancelled out by flat-to-down new customer pricing, and the frequent need to discount existing customers down to these levels to retain them

High speed net adds disappointed despite Openreach’s price cut, with many consumers unwilling to pay even a modest price premium for extra speed, a sobering thought as aggressive full fibre network roll-outs are being considered

Sky maintained strong revenue growth of 5% in 2017/18, with EBITDA and operating profit both bouncing back into strong positive territory after the UK Premier League rights hit of 2016/17

The UK grew revenue well and profits better; Italy performed well and should improve much further given the retreat of its principal competitor; Germany is more challenged, but extra content investment may aid sustained growth

Sky is proving adept at managing content costs and revenue in a changing environment, with investment, cost control and monetisation all being put to effective use as the content type demands it

Italy’s top football league awarded Sky the broadcasting rights to seven games per week from August 2018 until May 2021 for €780 million per year, up €208 million. UK-based Perform will carry three games for €193 million. Mediaset exits the market, freeing Sky from price competition

Besides Serie A, Sky added Mediaset’s Hollywood series and films to its content line up in May and will include the Champions League from August. We expect costs to rise by up to €500 million per year, which could be recouped by cuts in content and by recruiting Mediaset subscribers, notably on Sky’s new DTT feed

The best model for Perform would be to wholesale its new DAZN service to Sky, but even if a deal is found we doubt it could break even within the rights cycle

UK residential communications market revenue growth strengthened in Q1, but this was entirely driven by an overlapping price increase from BT, and the decline in market volume growth continues

Continued pressure on both subscriber volume growth and ARPU has led to diverging strategies, with most operators focused on sustaining ARPU, but TalkTalk chasing volumes at the low end, with the former approach currently proving more successful

Looking forward, the benefit of BT’s price rise will fall away completely next quarter and market revenue growth will likely resume its downward trend, but the nadir may be within sight if the flight to quality persists at most operators