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.

STV now has a clear pathway to reduce its reliance on linear advertising by investing in production, while pushing the transition to digital forward with a UK-wide footprint.

To that end, STV Player has some momentum and recent production company acquisitions, increasing external commissions and PSB Out of London quotas should ensure STV Studios returns to growth in 2021.

Such development is imperative: COVID-19 has accelerated structural change in viewing habits meaning now that content must not only be great, but available widely and immersed in a smooth user experience just to have a chance.

 

With the European Commission’s decision to block the H3G/O2 merger annulled and with new H3G management sounding a very pro-consolidation tone, the prospect of mobile operators going from four to three in the UK seems to be back on the cards.

Both H3G/Vodafone and H3G/O2/Virgin Media combinations seem possible although each has its own complexity—existing network sharing arrangements being one of them.

With 5G delays and mounting costs following the decision to ban Huawei, consolidation is increasingly feeling like the most viable option for H3G whose returns are already too low and falling rapidly.

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

In March 2019, the UK government consulted on a wider TV advertising ban until 9pm for food and drink high in fat, salt, and sugar (HFSS), to combat childhood obesity. The government may shortly publish the results more than one year later.

TV and TV advertising are not the cause of children being overweight or obese (O+O). Policy change in this area should inform and educate parents and young children, as they have in Leeds and Amsterdam.

With 64% of the UK population being O+O, obesity is a complex societal issue requiring a multifaceted approach. The evidence from existing rules, and plummeting TV viewing amongst children, says that further restrictions on TV advertising will be ineffective in curbing the rise of obesity in the UK.

Premium sports subscriptions are the primary sector weakness in the current crisis, and they look set to drive fixed operator revenues down 10% next quarter and Sky’s EBITDA down by 60%.

As lockdown eases, latent broadband demand can be more easily sated, and sports subscriptions will bounce back from the September quarter. A surge in working-from-home is likely to increase both the quantity and quality of home broadband demand, with ‘failover’ mobile backup also likely to be of greater interest.

Openreach will benefit from accelerated demand for full fibre, converged operators will be best-placed to offer mobile backup for broadband, and operators with a strong corporate presence will most easily target demand for home-working products.

ITV TV advertising was down 42% in April, better than expected—but there was no Q2 guidance. We believe ITV has outperformed the market, aided by large audiences, with 22 programmes with viewing above seven million, double the number over the same period in 2019.

The TV production stoppage hits ITV in two ways—leaving gaping holes in the schedule and cutting ITV Studios revenues. ITV Studios revenue was down 11% in Q1 (£342 million), with no guidance given for Q2 when the production shutdown will really come into effect and likely devastate previously expected revenues. ITV note that demand for library content is up, however, although much higher margin, this will only go a small way to offset lost production revenue.

The Love Island cancellation is a major blow, with the benefits that the format brings ITV—youthful, simultaneous, easily-monetisable, cross-platform engagement for six nights a week for over two months, akin to a major sports tournament that ITV owns—lost. But BritBox use and subscriptions are both up.

The press has reported on an imminent merger of O2 and Virgin Media (UK). This is not likely to be driven by the pursuit of revenue synergies as dis-synergies are more likely if the brands are merged.

Cost synergies are real, albeit a bit tangential. However, in a mature market even modest synergies are worth pursuing.

A full regulatory review may be required but approval is likely. Market impact is somewhat nuanced, with the benefit of a distracted competitor short-term and a larger but still rational operator ultimately.

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.

Demand for telecoms capacity is booming, and the networks can (broadly) cope, with the increase primarily in off-peak demand. However, as the crisis continues, maintaining resilience becomes more challenging.

In the short term, the demand for ample, reliable connectivity coupled with reduced churn will add resilience to operator financials, although there may be significant weak spots especially in business markets.

However, as the crisis goes on, the pressure on capacity and network maintenance may grow, and the impact of the dramatic economic slowdown on consumers and businesses will also put pressure on financials.