Over the past few months we have outlined the evolving challenges that the pandemic has presented broadcasters—from plummeting ad revenues and production stoppages, to increasing SVOD viewing share

Now, however, is the time to shift thinking towards what can be taken forward from this time. There are strategies that were launched through necessity that will provide continued value beyond this period

The opportunity to reduce cost bases, leverage the greater reach of online services, forge better relationships with advertisers and better understand operational needs and limits presents the potential for more nimble, streetwise businesses

Admissions and box office revenues in 2020 will be the lowest in over three decades. The pandemic forced the closure of theatres, putting pressure on cinema to a degree unlike ever before.

The reasonable success of the straight-to-TVOD releases under lockdown has some studios suggesting TVOD distribution will live alongside theatrical in the future. However, simultaneous releases are unacceptable for cinemas and TVOD’s sub-optimal financial reality means theatrical release will remain essential for most films.

TVOD distribution will temporarily play an expanded role, while SVOD will pursue its climb up the distribution chain and big studios will assert their increased power to negotiate more favourable terms with cinema owners.

The UK lockdown since mid-March has boosted TV time to levels not seen since 2014, with broadcast TV and online video each growing by nearly 40 minutes/person/day.

While trends vary significantly by demographic, news consumption has been a common catalyst for linear TV’s growth, benefitting the BBC above all. Although Sky News has also flourished, Sky’s portfolio has been seriously impacted by the lack of live sport.

2019 extended many of the long-running trends of the last decade, but, notably, online video’s growth rate appeared to slow among youngsters, in contrast to older demographics. 35-54-year-olds watching more VOD will have significant implications for linear broadcasters down the line.

Despite operating in a challenging market, Sky has continued to increase revenues, with the resilient performance of its direct-to-consumer and content businesses offsetting the disappointing drop in advertising income.

Across FY 2019, EBITDA was up 12.2%; profit growth driven by a significant reduction in “other” costs as large one-off effects disappear and cost-cutting continues.

Extended distribution deals with Netflix and WarnerMedia will protect Sky’s content proposition for the coming future, as would the mooted integration of Disney+.

Comcast’s new, on-demand service, launching in April, is an attempt to break NBCU’s unsustainable dependence on sales to Netflix and other SVODs. Peacock provides a path of digital transition for advertising-funded TV with a revamped low-load, high cost-per-thousand model.

Reach will be built with a free online tier and distribution to Comcast subscribers. Peacock seeks carriage from other pay-TV operators, with which reciprocal deals would make sense (i.e. HBO Max on Comcast alongside Peacock on AT&T’s platforms).

In Europe, where Comcast has no existing major free-TV offering to transition, launching Peacock will be challenging but could present Sky with ideas to counterweigh Netflix on its own service.

While Sky’s overall revenues continue to rise, Q3’s growth was hampered by a significant fall in advertising revenue and to a lesser extent a slowdown in content sales

Underlying EBITDA growth was in the mid-teens. Next quarter, Sky will continue to benefit from lower Premier League rights costs versus last season, and profit appears on track to meet full year guidance

Q3 saw a rare decline in Sky’s total number of customers due to the conclusion of Game of Thrones. Sky clearly understands the value of unique content—recently extending its HBO deal. In our view, this was essential, since without a distribution deal for Disney+ (launching in the UK in March) Sky would lose Disney’s alluring content

New SVOD entrants are prioritising reach over revenue in the US with extensive ‘free’ offers, including Apple TV+ (to hardware buyers), Disney+ (to Verizon customers), HBO Max (to HBO subscribers) and Comcast’s Peacock (to basic cable homes)

This is the latest development in an unfolding global story of partnerships, continuing on from multiple Netflix and Amazon distribution deals with platforms, bringing benefits to both parties

In Europe, Sky faces price pressure, but it has secured its HBO partnership and can now talk to Disney from a position of strength

Analysis of peak time TV programming on the main five PSB channels from 2002 to today shows a decline in the number of UK dramas broadcast—predominantly due to a contraction by ITV—though this has steadied since 2010

The resolve of the PSBs to maintain the number of dramas broadcast, despite rising costs, will mean an inevitable increase in the number of repeats and cheaper programming

A number of other observations are eye-catching: a greater turnover of drama series, entertainment formats failing at a higher rate and celebrity being treated as a panacea

Sky’s Q2 results were encouraging overall, with significant subscriber growth swinging direct-to-consumer revenue growth back to positive. ARPU declined once more, since new streaming customers are taking lower-priced products, but total revenue growth accelerated to 2.4%

EBITDA rose 20%, primarily due to the dropping out of some large one-off costs. Next quarter, Sky will begin making savings on the new Premier League rights contract, and increased football rights costs in Italy and Germany will have annualised out

Having launched Sky Studios in June, Sky is focused on producing original European content, with ambitions to double spend over the next five years, in a calibrated response to the Netflix-led race for content

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.