Market revenue growth remained positive in Q3 despite much of the lockdown bounceback dropping out, and is at a significantly higher level than pre-pandemic.

The backbook pricing pressure that has plagued the operators over the last 18 months appears to be finally starting to drop away, allowing strong demand and firm pricing to feed through.

The prospects for next year are also very positive, with firm price increases expected from April, ultrafast upgrades growing in significance, and continued annualisation of backbook issues.

Sky has started to reap benefits from its substantial reduction in sports rights costs in Italy and Germany, helping to grow group EBITDA by 76% in Q3, despite a slight drop in revenue.

With this change in strategy, the business model in Italy is undergoing an upheaval. Meanwhile, the UK continues to perform well, with further promise on the horizon thanks to the bold launch of Sky Glass.

This streaming TV is a future-proofing leap forwards in Sky’s ever-more-central aggregation strategy, starting the business down the long path to retiring satellite, though this is probably still over a decade away.

Sky’s revenue was up 15% in Q2, back to pre-COVID levels despite some lingering pandemic effects such as most pubs and clubs remaining closed. EBITDA fell by a third, driven by higher costs from sports rights, since very few live sports events took place in Q2 2020.

The impact of “resetting” football rights is already evident in Germany and Italy, with 248k net customer losses across the group despite growth in the UK. However, Sky will make substantial savings, and we expect this will more than offset lost revenues.

Meanwhile, Sky continues to strike deals with other content providers, solidifying its position as the leading household entertainment gatekeeper. In time, apps for NBCU’s Peacock, ViacomCBS’ Paramount+, ITV Hub, and, in Germany, RTL TV Now and DAZN, will all be aggregated within Sky Q.

Market revenue growth improved to -1.4% in Q1 2021, a partial recovery being better than at any point in 2020, but still worse than at any point in 2019.

Next quarter the sports channel suspensions will lap out, driving strong (but temporary) year-on-year growth.

Longer-term revenue growth recovery will need backbook pricing pressure relief, which will start in Q2, and demand for ultrafast broadband.

After a strong post-pandemic rebound, Sky has the opportunity to leverage its strong reputation with consumers to meet the challenge posed by new competitors and the studios’ direct-to-consumer transition, establishing Sky Q as the ultimate gatekeeper of video subscription homes.

Sports rights costs in Germany and Italy have been cut significantly, while Sky’s spend on UK Premier League rights will decrease in real terms. Savings will ease the financing of the shift to original content, which, associated with owner Comcast’s NBCU output, anchors the aggregation strategy.

Fibre deployment in the UK and Italy presents a subscriber and revenue growth opportunity, and underpins the gradual shift away from satellite to online content distribution.

Market revenue growth sunk back to -3% in Q4 from -2% in Q3, with further backbook pricing and lockdown effects to blame .

Backbook pricing will improve with numerous price increases announced, but these will only start to take effect in Q2 2021.

Demand for broadband and ultrafast looks promising, but will also take time to filter through to revenue, with Q1 again lockdown-affected.

Ofcom’s full fibre regulation statement, released today, is largely as trailed, i.e. it allows BT’s Openreach considerable relaxation of wholesale pricing in return for building out full fibre.

On the longer-term regulatory prospects, Ofcom continues to be fair but more obtuse than it could and should be, unnecessarily dampening investor enthusiasm. Ofcom will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow Openreach to offer geographic/volume discounts, using slightly contradictory principles.

The publication and increased certainty may allow BT’s Openreach to extend its full fibre roll-out further, faster or even with external financing. The build plans of others will come under increasing question.

BT’s December quarter results were mixed, with revenue growth improving but EBITDA growth worsening, and next quarter will be hit by the effects of lockdown 3 on mobile, with B2B likely to be hit by business failures following the end of furlough.

BT has maintained/nudged up its financial guidance regardless, and there are plenty of positive longer-term signs, with subscriber growth strong in the quarter, pricing pressure easing, and full fibre roll-out and adoption progressing nicely.

Overall, we expect the road to continue to be bumpy, but a recovery by 2022/23 still seems very plausible, ultimately driven by the wholesale and retail benefits of full fibre, and perhaps helped if it can get ‘Digital’ right, a particular challenge historically for BT.

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