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.

  • Under a revised deal, DAZN, the Serie A broadcaster, is now allowed to expand its distribution to the Sky platform in return for a reduced fee from TIM, the incumbent telco
  • The new-look Italian market is consistent with DAZN’s approach elsewhere in Europe, seeking blanket distribution and avoiding head on challenges with incumbents
  • For the Italian sports rights market, the agreements clear the air, but Serie A needs deep reform

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 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.

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.

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

The rights auction for France’s Ligue 1 will be held on 29 May. With Altice’s struggling subsidiary SFR unlikely to bid, Canal+ and BeIN Sports may not offer enough to meet reserve prices, triggering a postponement of the auction

In Spain, stiff fixed-line competition is shifting battlegrounds from football to scripted content. The Champions League has yet to sign up a platform for next season, while the upcoming 2019-22 La Liga rights auction may well fail to increase domestic revenues

With just 12 weeks before next season kicks off, Italy’s Serie A is also yet to secure a broadcaster, although we expect the league to back down and settle with Sky. In this deflationary environment, top clubs are eyeing a new Club Word Cup as an extra revenue stream – running the risk of further widening the financial chasm between themselves and smaller clubs

After losing money for 13 years fighting Sky, Mediaset has given up. The two have agreed to wholesale channels to each other, and Sky gained the option to take over the infrastructure of terrestrial pay platform Mediaset Premium, in a deal designed to pass antitrust muster

The main strategic upside for Sky resides in eventual access to content from Italian FTA channels, allowing it to become the country’s ‘universal’ platform. Meanwhile, Mediaset may find it easier to resolve its dispute with France’s Vivendi now that the broadcaster has got rid of its main cash drain

Sky remains the only major potential buyer of the 2018-21 Serie A rights, to be sold on 21 April. However, due to the league’s unrealistic expectations and the faulty platform-based auction design, the auction may be aborted for a third time, raising the risk that heavily indebted clubs resort to short-term fixes
 

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally found that Fox’s acquisition of Sky is against the public interest on media plurality grounds, although it could proceed with an appropriate remedy

The CMA found the merger would give the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) and family members “too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda”

The CMA now enters the challenging remedies phase. Fox could offer an Editorial Board for Sky News pending finalisation of Disney-Fox (by 2019). Third parties seem likely to continue to seek to prohibit the merger