The pandemic years boosted many businesses selling services on subscription in the UK: work-from-home gave people more time and money to widen the services they enjoyed in the home, such as gaming, entertainment and music, also boosting engagement with trusted news

The cost-of-living crisis dented the number of subscribers to OTT SVOD and news services in Q2 2022. Broadband and mobile are must-have; bundles of services (e.g. Sky’s pay-TV and broadband or mobile) are more resilient; yearly and multi-year contracts prevent churn relative to monthly contracts; and services that cater to passions (e.g. football) are always need-to-have

Subscription (or supporter) media and news services reaped the demand for trusted news through the pandemic, but now face a tough challenge to their toplines from the economic downturn—and also to transition to a sustainable business model for media audiences, while advertisers are also feeling the heat

Revenue decline accelerated in Q2 as the cost-of-living crisis appears to be impacting UK sales, but profits remained strong thanks to last summer’s Continental sports rights reset.

In Italy, DAZN will return on Sky’s platform just in time for the new Serie A football season, filling a key gap in its aggregation strategy.

Looking forward, thanks to its enhanced profitability, Sky has the flexibility to respond to the economic downturn using pricing and content.

Market revenue growth continued to accelerate in Q2 to reach 3%, but broadband growth worryingly dipped as the lockdown boost waned.

Differing pricing dynamics (among other factors) led to very different outcomes for the main players, with BT’s growth surging to 7% while VMO2’s revenue stayed in decline.

Underlying trends of weakening broadband growth, keener pricing and customer bargain seeking point to slower growth ahead … until the next price increase.

UK altnet full fibre rollouts are accelerating, with an aggregate build pace close to that of Openreach, but customer acquisition is not growing at the same pace, and overbuild in the most attractive areas is becoming a significant issue.

Altnet business models remain challenging and are getting worse as Openreach builds out, and (although there are some notable exceptions) most will need to rapidly achieve scale and turn around their performance to survive.

Consolidation is very likely, along with business failures, and while some market share loss for Openreach looks likely as serious scale players emerge, the downside is limited, and even more so for retail ISPs.

With the cost-of-living crisis expected to worsen over the coming months, the telecoms operators must walk a fine line—support customers but protect their financial performance in the face of a likely recession and rising costs.

We are likely to see weakness on the B2B side and consumers will look for ways to reduce out-of-bundle spend, seek retention discounts and spin down to lower speed tiers and data bundles, but we expect that dropping services completely will hold limited appeal.

Proactive retention activity and promotional pricing is likely to pay off more than slashing headline prices, and will help to avoid a damaging price war—a far bigger risk to their revenues than spin-down.

The market looked superficially healthy in Q1, with revenue and broadband volume growth both maintained at 2%.

However, net adds trends suggest that consumers are becoming more bargain seeking, and prices have become more competitive into Q2.

The April price increases will support growth in the short term, but this boost may not last long if the cost-of-living crisis persists.

BT’s Q4 was mixed in the detail, with consumer broadband volumes weakening but FTTP roll-out and adoption surging, with performance at the Group level solid enough.

The April price increase has reportedly landed well, strongly supporting BT’s guidance for revenue and EBITDA growth in 2022/23 with no other improvements required.

The macroeconomic environment continues to weaken, affecting BT and its premium brands in a number of ways, but it appears to have enough room in its guidance to weather this storm.

Sky continued to grow its UK revenue thanks to price rises, mobile customer additions, and a rebound from lost hospitality business in early 2021, but this was still outweighed by the recent reset of its Italian operation.

Aggregation remains a core focus, with Paramount+, and Magenta Sport in Germany, added to Sky’s bundles, while fibre rollout will intensify with the launch of Sky Stream puck as a standalone device later this year.

Declining buying power raises uncertainty over consumer behaviour: in previous recessions, pay-TV performed well, but today subscribers have more video options than ever before.

Whilst we remain sceptical of the churn reduction benefits of fixed/mobile convergence, the pandemic and a more astute approach from the operators is enhancing the case for it in the UK.

Creating the impression of a giveaway whilst minimizing the effective discount is key, as is extracting any loyalty and cost benefits.

Even if well executed, any upsides are likely to be modest. Operators are right to keep discounts to a minimum and to avoid M&A premia predicated on fixed/mobile convergence synergies.

Sky’s performance across 2021 significantly improved, driven in Q4 by a nice c.5% growth rate in UK consumer revenues and the advertising rebound, but effects of the pandemic are still being felt with EBITDA down 30% on 2019.

The decline in Group revenue accelerated in Q4 due to the severe shock to the Italian operation from its loss of most premium football coverage, although we see upsides in a possible rights reshuffle.

In 2022, Sky can leverage growth vectors including bigger content bundles, Glass, advertising innovations and broadband. Consolidating SVOD and telecoms markets may be more favourable to price increases.