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.

The launch of new games consoles this week showcases broadly divergent strategies for Sony and Microsoft, with market leader PlayStation focused solely on defending its model against the rising tide of cheaper subscription games services.

Xbox's consumer offer is the best value proposition for these difficult economic times, attracting new customers and positioning for growth, and stopping slavish devotion to 'core gamers' in the process.

Amazon's Luna lands, providing big competition in game streaming services for Google's Stadia. But nobody is taking any notice, as neither provide a real breakthrough for the industry or great value for gamers. Stadia’s lifespan could be limited.

GDP growth slowed in August (+2.1%) from July (+6.4%), despite the boost to the hospitality sector from Eat Out to Help Out, while work from home (WFH) guidance remained in place for professional services.

WFH is providing resilience to B2B service verticals, thanks to the UK’s digital capabilities, while decimating B2C businesses, whose resilience is threatened as loan and furlough support programmes wind down. Rising unemployment casts a pall over consumer demand in the first winter of the pandemic.

Online continues to power retail sales, as consumers replace out-of-home with in-home activities. Online grocery sales have leapt to 10% of all grocery sales—double the pre-pandemic levels.

Over Q2, the value of online sales (excl. fuel) grew by 55%, whilst offline sales (excl. fuel) declined by 22%. Three months of lockdown has accelerated ecommerce by four years and households will spend more than ever before online, post-lockdown.

The rapid shift to ecommerce poses lofty challenges to UK retailers who have historically been timid in their approach to ecommerce. Integration between sales channels will become more important than ever before, but very few have managed to perfect this approach.

As more retail activity takes place online, ad products from the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook stand to benefit greatly, pulling spend from other ad and marketing budgets that were aimed at driving in-store behaviours.

 

Premium sports subscriptions are the primary sector weakness in the current crisis, and they look set to drive fixed operator revenues down 10% next quarter and Sky’s EBITDA down by 60%.

As lockdown eases, latent broadband demand can be more easily sated, and sports subscriptions will bounce back from the September quarter. A surge in working-from-home is likely to increase both the quantity and quality of home broadband demand, with ‘failover’ mobile backup also likely to be of greater interest.

Openreach will benefit from accelerated demand for full fibre, converged operators will be best-placed to offer mobile backup for broadband, and operators with a strong corporate presence will most easily target demand for home-working products.

Online reviews are a vital input for consumer decision-making. However, reviews are easy to manipulate, and widespread fraud is undermining credibility and raising the issue of consumer protection.

Facebook, Google, and Amazon utilise reviews to improve the consumer experience, but also to sell advertising to businesses and to address fraud. These companies leverage their data superiority to better utilise reviews on their platforms, and possess a competitive advantage, versus sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and eBay.

Demand for expert opinion remains strong, yet is supplied only by publishers and Which?, a small segment in terms of share of traffic relative to platforms.

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.

Amazon reported $75bn in net sales, which was largely in line with expectations, and 28% growth in Prime subscription revenue—as Amazon now has more than 150 million Prime subscribers worldwide—cementing its place as the irreplaceable utility for many in lockdown.

However, Q1 results only covered a few weeks of lockdown. Amazon expects low profitability in Q2 as lockdown persists in its main markets, with customer expenditure focused on a narrow basket of essentials as people face pressures from unemployment and business closures.

Amazon’s warehouses are a key vulnerability in the time of COVID-19. Jeff Bezos pledged $4bn to keep workers safe and warehouses in function, though whether this is enough to placate government’s and workers’ concerns is yet to be seen.

In response to COVID-19 and the associated lockdown and economic crash, advertisers have slashed budgets. Online budgets are not immune.

This has clarified features of the online ad market: it is demand-driven, relies heavily on SMEs and startups, and is built on direct response campaigns.

We expect online advertising to outperform other media, and for platforms to further gain share. But with a very few exceptions, this health and economic disaster is good for nobody.

2020 promises a year of transition for the games industry: eSports and games broadcasting are competing with traditional programming; game streaming services are becoming meaningful platform competition; and new consoles are on the way.

While most in the studio and TV industries continue to struggle with the games market—neither understanding (or seeing) a strategic fit, nor showing a willingness to invest—expect explosive growth to power the industry for the next decade and transform all entertainment services, not just games.

The ‘free-to-play’ games sector requires oversight and regulation to protect children and the vulnerable; expect regulatory turbulence in the UK, Europe and China.