The plunge in the UK economy in Q2 2020 due to the pandemic-induced lockdown reduced advertising expenditure by close to one-third, recovering in Q3.

Impaired mobility of consumers dramatically reduced expenditure on print and out-of-home media, which are reliant on footfall, alongside cinema, whose theatres have been shuttered on and off all year.

The paradigm shift in consumer expenditure to ecommerce in 2020, which will moderate in 2021 as mobility partly returns, boosted online display while search was flat due to impeded travel plans.

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.

COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented decline in advertiser demand for TV, and while the steepest drop has occurred, broadcasters will feel the impact over a long period of time.

Programming costs are being cut or deferred, but it is not possible—or even sensible—to reduce total programming budgets significantly in the mid-term due to existing contractual commitments.

Increased government support in the form of advertising spend, a loosening of Channel 4's programming obligations—the lifeblood of the independent production sector—and revisions to existing measures (to capture a greater proportion of freelancers) will be required to ensure a flourishing, vibrant sector for the future.

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+.

21CF’s bid for 100% ownership of Sky has been referred for a Phase 2 investigation to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which will decide by 6 March 2018

Third parties Avaaz and Ed Miliband MP complain of the influence of the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) and family members over the UK’s news agenda and political process 

A remedy could insulate Sky News from this influence. The offer of a Sky News Editorial Board at Phase 1 was refused. Third parties will ensure the debate in Phase 2 is very lively

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

 

Secretary of State (SoS) Karen Bradley has made an initial decision to refer 21CF’s bid for Sky to the Competition Markets Authority (CMA) for a detailed consideration of media plurality concerns, to be finalised in the near future

The issue at hand is the potential increase in the influence of the members of the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) over the UK’s news agenda and political process. The SoS rejected the remedy for Sky News brokered by Ofcom

Ofcom’s non-negative decision on the fitness and propriety of 21CF to hold Sky’s broadcast licences cleared another hurdle in the event the merger is finally accepted