On 12 May 2022, Enders Analysis co-hosted the annual Media and Telecoms 2022 & Beyond conference with Deloitte, sponsored by Barclays, Financial Times, Meta, and Deloitte Legal

With up to 500 attendees and over 40 speakers from the TMT sectors, including leading executives, policy leaders, and industry experts, the conference focused on regulation, infrastructure, and how new technologies will impact the future of the sector 

These are edited transcripts of Sessions 7 and 8 covering: UK mobile and the opportunities and challenges of infrastructure. Videos of the presentations are also available on the conference website

Vodafone attributed its muted outlook for the coming year to macroeconomic headwinds but it has more to do with the German cable business, which is now in decline rather than being the growth engine that it was billed to be when acquired.

Value-accretive deals remain on the agenda but management are rightly reluctant to appear desperate—a difficult balancing act with the risk of missing out on further opportunities.

Substantial fibre investment in Germany looks inevitable, as does sustained competitive pressure there. Even if the former is off balance sheet, the combination will dampen hopes of growth and a progressive dividend.

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.

The recent shareholder pressure on Vodafone seems to focus on consolidation (where we see approval prospects as only slightly improved), Vantage (where a sell-down may create more value than an industrial merger), and improving operational performance (which continues to struggle).

The zero-growth German fixed business took another step down this quarter and looks set to worsen.  This will be central to growth prospects next year and a write-down of the investment looks inevitable.

A culture necessitated by a sprawling asset base may be holding back performance but any break-up would be costly and protracted, with real premium valuations achievable only with consolidation.

Vodafone’s leverage issue continues to drive its strategy and operational focus, as evidenced in its H1 results with solid EBITDA but lacklustre revenues.

Its leverage crisis is severely exacerbated by the prospect of a fibre build in Germany as well as a sizeable headwind to its cable business momentum there. Further sell-downs at Vantage will help and we view the prospects of consolidation as slightly improved, with Spain the most promising option.

Growth in the UK appears to be on hold and the outlook is mixed with VMO2’s notice for early termination for its MVNO, ongoing B2B weakness expected but significant inflation-linked price rises on the cards.

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.

Vodafone’s growth this quarter was a touch disappointing; the annualistion of the COVID hit was a clear boost but no evidence of any tailwinds. The 1.1% growth in the European markets should be the real focus for investors.

We see some evidence of positive initiatives from Vodafone such as its new EVO tariffs in the UK but it still has much to prove on operating momentum, especially in Germany.

There are signs that Vodafone is slow-pedalling in some markets and with demanding EBITDA targets and with leverage still finely balanced, we expect this focus on profitability to continue. The UK may be a special case.

Generating cash is top of Vodafone’s agenda right now, and we may be seeing early signs of that driving operational tactics ahead of resolving its leverage crisis through either an IPO of Vantage or a sale of its Iberian assets.

EBITDA growth would really help. Analyst forecasts of +4% for next year are not supported by recent history and a simple bounce-back of roaming revenues should not be assumed.

Q3 results were a mixed bag with the very slight improvement in revenue trends accounted for by easing roaming pressure. Green shoots in German fixed is a highlight, with growth in UK mobile a touch disappointing.

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.