Virgin Media’s subscriber boom continued into 2021, despite a marked price rise in Q1, benefiting from lockdown and continued demand for higher speed broadband.

ARPU remained weak in Q1, suppressing revenue growth, but this will recover (somewhat) in Q2 as the price rise takes effect, countering the current disconnect between volume and revenue growth.

The merger with O2 is set to complete in June, with much operational pre-merger preparation already done, but the key strategic questions appear yet to be decided.

On 9 and 10 March 2021, Enders Analysis co-hosted the annual Media & Telecoms 2021 & Beyond conference with Deloitte, sponsored by Barclays and The Financial Times.

With over 50 speakers from the TMT sectors, including leading executives, policy leaders, and industry experts, the conference focused on the impact of the pandemic on society and the TMT sector, decarbonising work, and the post-pandemic recovery.

Over 1,000 attendees enjoyed our first virtual conference and these are edited transcripts of the speakers on Day 2, with keynote speakers and sessions on: policy, advertising, video and sports, and video production. Videos of the presentations are also available on the conference website.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Following deadly border clashes between the 15th and 16th June, the Indian government has taken down 59 Chinese apps including TikTok, accusing them of illegally mining user data

India is TikTok's biggest international market, accounting for half of all users outside China. Chinese apps made up 38% of all app installs in India last year, second only to domestic apps

The India-China rivalry may spill over into more sectors as reports suggest India is reconsidering Huawei’s role in its 5G infrastructure plans. A ban would provide a fillip to US influence in the country

Virgin Media’s Q1 financial performance was in line with its subdued outlook, with its key problem being a lack of demand (yet) for the ultrafast services that only it can widely provide.

CV-19 has delayed the marketing of ultrafast services from competitors, likely suppressing demand more generally; in the longer term however, the working-from-home experience will likely help drive adoption.

Virgin Media still has to solve the problem of alleviating the long-term threat of full fibre builds negating its network advantage; we believe that the best answer is to expand to a nationwide service via wholesale, and the merger with the nationwide O2 reinforces this.