Growth deteriorated by 3.5ppts, with the UK the weakest and Italy most robust thanks to its early onslaught of COVID-19, usage pickup in a largely pre-pay market and reprieve from a particularly competitive environment.

More operators (Orange and Telecom Italia) cut their guidance at the Q2 results and others (Deutsche Telekom and Iliad) sounded a note of caution regarding the likelihood of them reaching their full year targets.

The outlook for next quarter is mixed—roaming revenues will be even harder hit and competitive intensity is bouncing back but where usage has been depressed it will begin to recover well post-lockdown.

European mobile service revenue growth strengthened very slightly to -0.3% this quarter but, with many positive and negative factors at play, it would be wrong to conclude that we evidenced a convincing improvement in momentum.

Most operators have reiterated their financial guidance in spite of COVID-19 but there is caution from Vodafone and those exposed to sports rights (BT and Telefonica).

The outlook benefits from continued lockdown measures (reducing churn and spin-down) and the annualisation of some financial drags from the middle of next quarter. However, competition in Spain remains intense and the sector is exposed to any economic downturn.

European mobile revenues remain decidedly in decline this quarter at -2% – a slight worsening since Q2 as the full force of cuts to intra-EU calls hits 

There are signs that dual-brand strategies may be reaching their useful limit as erstwhile premium customers shift to value

There is scope for some trends to slowly improve from here, although end-of-contract notifications will impact all markets before the end of 2020, with the UK first off the blocks in Q1
 

With pay-TV competition faltering, UEFA is aiming to stimulate demand for 2021-24 TV rights with early auctions, a possible relaunch of FTA broadcasts, and even, unrealistically, by considering an online service of its own

In the recently completed UK auction, facing no major threat from Sky, BT kept the rights at an almost flat price – probably missing a cost saving opportunity

In the upcoming auctions on the Continent, with former buyers such as SFR, Mediaset and Vodafone having cut back on premium sports, the major platforms’ bids will probably be unchallenged

European mobile revenue trends are not yet improving. Italy is still flat-lining at almost -10%, Spain worsened again, and the UK deteriorated sharply. France is the only good news story

5G rollouts seem somewhat tentative. Indications from the UK that it is leading to a more competitive environment may discourage European operators from exacerbating already challenging markets

Prior year comparables for Southern Europe will be more flattering in the second half of this year although a doubling in the drag from intra EU calls will dampen any recovery

Governments and operators have come under increasing pressure to exclude Huawei’s 5G equipment from national networks, with justifications usually kept vague and wide-ranging rather than specific, and no evidence provided.

Given the role of Huawei’s 5G equipment in the network and the extent of existing testing and checking, realistic security risks that apply to Huawei and not to all other equipment suppliers are hard to conceive.

The risks of any ban are however very real; with Huawei one of only three global-scale telecoms equipment suppliers, and the preferred early choice for 5G radio equipment in the UK, removing this choice will massively increase costs and delay roll-outs of cutting-edge connectivity.

The combination of 5G, AI, IoT and big data were evangelised at MWC as generating massive scope for the transformation of multiple industries. 

That much is probably true, but it is the tech and consultancy companies who will likely receive the benefits, with connectivity revenue likely to be modest.

For the operators, 5G brings more capacity much needed for hungry smartphone users, and perhaps the opportunity to transform themselves into a leaner operating model.
 

Across the EU4, pay-TV is proving resilient in the face of fast growing Netflix (with Amazon trailing), confirming the catalysts of cord-cutting in the US are not present on this side of the Atlantic. Domestic SVOD has little traction so far.

France's pay-TV market seems likely to see consolidation. Meanwhile, Germany's OTT sector is ebullient, with incumbents bringing an array of new or enhanced offers to market.

Italy has been left with a sole major pay-TV platform—Sky—following Mediaset's withdrawal, while Spain's providers, by and large, are enjoying continued growth in subscriptions driven by converged bundles and discounts.

European mobile service revenue growth was down slightly to 0.3% in Q1, with improving trends in all countries other than France, which was down sharply due to the closure of the VAT loophole and intensifying competition

Iliad's launch in Italy was somewhat muted but its focus on straightforward tariffs is likely to hold considerable appeal there, with hidden charges there commonplace and being investigated by the antitrust authority

We expect greater polarisation between the North and South as the year progresses, the key question marks being Vodafone's strategy in Germany, Iliad's traction in Italy, and whether Iliad's revamp in France will lessen or worsen mobile competition there​

In a display of chutzpah, Mediapro acquired the Ligue 1 domestic broadcasting rights from 2020-24 in what is the most disruptive shock to the French broadcasting industry in a generation; one that is likely to accelerate Canal+’s decline, force a review of the outdated regulatory framework, and possibly spur an M&A spree.

The Mediapro move only makes sense as a highly speculative bid to resell the rights, or a dedicated channel, to French platforms in 2020. The odds are high that the broker ultimately fails to fulfil the contract, as just happened in Italy, where Sky is now expected to get the Serie A licence.

Precedents of new entrants acquiring domestic top-flight rights bode poorly for Mediapro, and for the league. The Ligue 1 may live to regret the introduction of a ‘re-sell right’ into its licensing terms.