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
 

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

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

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

Ofcom’s recommendations to Government suggest updating EPG prominence legislation to cover connected TVs, and were warmly welcomed by the PSBs

Balancing various commercial, PSB and consumer interests will be key; determining what content qualifies for prominence will be a particularly thorny issue to resolve

Extending prominence to smart TVs and streaming sticks is critical, but implementation will be challenging

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