Virgin Media’s subscriber growth continues to be very strong, and it looks like next quarter’s price rise will (at worst) only stall, not stop, the renaissance.

ARPU was hit in Q4 by the postponed price rise, and it will likely remain in decline in 2021, with regulatory pricing pressure and lockdown effects still weighing, despite firm new customer pricing.

Nonetheless, accelerating subscriber growth is expected to drive group revenue growth positive again (helped by B2B growth), and Virgin Media’s main strategic problem—its fibre trilemma—looks like it will be dealt with after the merger with O2, expected to close mid-year.

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.

Virgin Media’s lockdown subscriber surge continued into Q3, as working-from-home highlights the importance of the faster speeds its network can offer.

ARPU is more challenged, and will get worse next quarter given its forgone price rise, but price rises are back in fashion in the industry, so this problem is likely to prove temporary.

Openreach’s full fibre remains a medium-term threat, but the company is rightly taking advantage while its network superiority remains, with momentum firmly in its favour for now.

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.

Market revenue fell 6% in Q1 2020, largely due to lack of sports revenue (which will bounce back), but backbook pricing woes also hit.

Broadband volume growth accelerated though, and may accelerate further as supply constraints ease.

The increase in working-from-home may also enhance demand for ultrafast, the best hope for a return to industry revenue growth.

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.

Press reports suggest that the restrictions on Huawei equipment may morph into a full ban, with new installations stopping soon and existing equipment to be removed by 2029.

The direct ‘tear-out’ and replacement costs for mobile would be very high at up to £2bn, and there would be significant disruption to 5G roll-outs as operators’ focus moves to replacing what they already have as opposed to pushing into new coverage areas.

Previous rules applied to fixed line broadband networks with as much force as mobile; having to replace Huawei broadband kit would almost certainly delay the move to ‘full fibre’, for no good reason even according to the government’s own report.