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.

Sky posted understandably weak results for Q1, amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Revenue fell by 3.7% year-on-year, with most sports subscriptions on pause and advertising markets in shock.

The company has guided to a 60% fall in EBITDA over the next two quarters, as it bears the extra costs of a very condensed sporting schedule, but much will depend on what level of rebate it negotiates from the rightsowners for the disruption.

On screen, Sky faces similar production issues to other broadcasters, but it has continued to enhance its platform gatekeeper role and strong content offering, most recently by integrating Disney+.

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+.

Sky made a surprisingly weak start to 2019, with revenue growth decelerating to 1.9% (the first time below 4% since the European businesses merged in 2015), due to weaker ARPU trends

However, Sky expects improvement to follow, blaming one-off factors in the quarter. The ARPU weakness drove EBITDA down 11.3%, but this should bounce back across the rest of 2019 as football rights costs turn from a drag to a positive

Comcast highlighted collaborations with Sky across tech, advertising, content distribution and even news, stating it is on track to achieve the anticipated $500 million in annual synergies over the next couple of years

Sky’s revenue growth under Comcast appears to have accelerated since it last reported as an independent company, largely driven by sports rights expansion in Italy, which also drove bumper subscriber growth in Q3 2018 

Sky UK likely enjoyed a steadier performance, helped by accelerating high speed adoption, a price rise in April, increased international sales, and improving premium channel adoption on third-party platforms

Comcast expects continued acceleration into 2019, with profitability taking a hit from increased sports rights in Italy in H1, but this is more than compensated for by reduced English Premier League rights costs in H2
 

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

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

Many European telecoms operators are pursuing a fixed/mobile convergence strategy on the pretext that the addition of mobile reduces churn. We see no evidence of churn reduction from this strategy

Discounts required to encourage take-up of fixed/mobile services are often value-destructive, even before competitor reaction: a 10% bundle discount necessitates a 2ppt improvement in churn to wash its face economically. M&A premia on the basis of convergence synergies raise the hurdle even higher

Most UK operators offer very limited discounts on fixed/mobile bundles for now, sensibly focusing on enhanced services. Vodafone is the most aggressive, albeit less so than it is elsewhere. All UK players should hope that it stays this way

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