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.

European mobile growth was essentially zero year-on-year—a significant improvement thanks to annualisation of the pandemic but there is little evidence of the reversal of its negative impacts.

Italy saw the biggest improvement in its underlying trend as the pandemic continued to suppress Iliad’s momentum, while elevated competitive tension in Spain and France ate into their annualisation boost.

Mobility and flight data suggests that Q3 will evidence a bigger boost from renewed travel than in Q2—positive for roaming revenues—but that the improvement in mobility will be weaker than in the June quarter.

The two-part nature of the UK 5G auctions has thrown up various issues, with non-contiguous spectrum blocks proving the most challenging to resolve.

The Annual Licence Fees (ALFs) attached to H3G’s spectrum are the crucial stumbling block in spectrum trading negotiations, creating a level of uncertainty which is not conducive to striking a sensible deal.

Ofcom has a crucial role to play in securing an efficient outcome and time is very much of the essence.

Sky’s revenue was up 15% in Q2, back to pre-COVID levels despite some lingering pandemic effects such as most pubs and clubs remaining closed. EBITDA fell by a third, driven by higher costs from sports rights, since very few live sports events took place in Q2 2020.

The impact of “resetting” football rights is already evident in Germany and Italy, with 248k net customer losses across the group despite growth in the UK. However, Sky will make substantial savings, and we expect this will more than offset lost revenues.

Meanwhile, Sky continues to strike deals with other content providers, solidifying its position as the leading household entertainment gatekeeper. In time, apps for NBCU’s Peacock, ViacomCBS’ Paramount+, ITV Hub, and, in Germany, RTL TV Now and DAZN, will all be aggregated within Sky Q.

As we expected, UK mobile operators are beginning to introduce EU roaming tariffs, with EE taking the first major leap in the hope that others will follow.

This move is somewhat inevitable as current arrangements leave operators exposed to up to €75 of monthly wholesale charges.

We don't envisage a return to the days of super-normal returns from roaming, but it is nonetheless conducive to much-needed price inflation in the sector.

Mobile growth dipped again to -3.3% for what we hope is the final time as widespread lockdowns impacted paid-for usage in most countries.

BT and Vodafone joined the other European MNOs in guiding to improving trends in 2021—expecting EBITDA momentum to be 7-10ppts better—slightly ahead of the 5-7ppts for the European operators.

We may even see positive revenue growth next quarter thanks to the simple annualisation of the first lockdown, with the UK the most to gain and Germany and Italy the least. Investment is creeping up too with higher capex guidance and better 5G momentum.

The last lockdown caused service revenues to dip again to -7% in spite of some easing of roaming pressure and the annualisation of some early pandemic weakness.

The heralded, elevated in-contract price rises will fail to drive higher growth this year due to lower inflation—we estimate zero impact at BT/EE relative to 2020 and a reduction in revenue momentum of around 0.5ppts for each of the other operators.

The annualisation of the first lockdown is the most meaningful upside from here with a boost of around 5-7ppts possible. However, some pandemic upsides will also unwind, notably lower churn and enhanced B2B demand with the latter vulnerable to the end of furlough support and the economy.

After a strong post-pandemic rebound, Sky has the opportunity to leverage its strong reputation with consumers to meet the challenge posed by new competitors and the studios’ direct-to-consumer transition, establishing Sky Q as the ultimate gatekeeper of video subscription homes.

Sports rights costs in Germany and Italy have been cut significantly, while Sky’s spend on UK Premier League rights will decrease in real terms. Savings will ease the financing of the shift to original content, which, associated with owner Comcast’s NBCU output, anchors the aggregation strategy.

Fibre deployment in the UK and Italy presents a subscriber and revenue growth opportunity, and underpins the gradual shift away from satellite to online content distribution.

Spectrum auction assignment stages are normally fairly dull and routine, but due to the two-part nature of the 5G auctions, and the critical importance of proximity and contiguity, this is not the case with 5G.

The assignments won, combined with the Vodafone/O2 deal, ensures that all the operators enjoy at least 80MHz of (essential) proximity, but only O2 gets (nice-to-have) contiguity.

Further swaps could ensure contiguity for all, but this requires H3G to co-operate, which is in its absolute, but not relative, best interests.

Mobile revenue growth improved slightly to -3% this quarter, primarily thanks to a weakening in the drag from the loss of roaming.

European MNOs are guiding to improving trends in 2021—broadly stable revenues and EBITDA vs declines of 5-7% in 2020. This bodes well for guidance from the UK players around mid-May.

However, the outlook is far from rosy, with Q1 2021 still very challenging ahead of an annualisation of the pandemic drags from the June quarter. Growth prospects remain contingent on the resumption of travel and the economic climate.