Broadband market volume growth resumed its downward trend in the September quarter after a blip in the previous quarter that was likely caused by a wholesale transfer distorting the figures. Revenue growth, however, perked up to 1.9% from 1.7% in the previous quarter, an encouraging recovery especially given that it was not primarily driven by the timing of a price increase

ARPU growth improved across all four of the major operators, countering recent trends, with a focus on higher value offerings a common theme. High speed broadband adoption accelerated in the quarter across most operators, encouraged by Openreach’s volume discount offer, although this was partially driven by keener high speed pricing

Revenue growth at Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk converged at around 3%, with BT Consumer lagging at -1%. However, excluding the effect of BT’s shrinking telephony-only base and smoothing the sporadic boost of its 9-monthly price rise, BT Consumer’s revenue is in the middle of the pack at 3.0% 

Audiobooks are growing fast, driven by smartphone adoption and better supply, as well as interest from people who don’t usually buy books, such as young men

The sector is dominated by the presence of Audible, Amazon’s audiobook publisher/retailer, which has driven growth of audiobooks but put publishers under pressure. Its strategy is a lesson in Amazon’s approach to media

Audio is an opportunity to sell to new customers, but publishers must acquire and use rights responsibly, and experiment while not letting the audio tail wag the print dog

Virgin Media had a mixed quarter, with subscriber ARPU growth maintained, partly driven by a triple play focus with pay TV and telephony adds much improved, but subscriber and broadband net adds unchanged

Cable revenue growth did slow from 3.6% to 3.1%, mainly due to the previous quarter’s net adds slowdown working through, and it is still growing the fastest of the big operators in a slow-growth market that still suffers from pricing pressure at the low end

Its network roll-out was slower than last year and only just above the weather-impacted previous quarter, which appears to be deliberate, and which may at least partly relate to an uncertain regulatory and commercial climate over ‘full fibre’ roll-out by others

UK residential communications market revenue growth strengthened in Q1, but this was entirely driven by an overlapping price increase from BT, and the decline in market volume growth continues

Continued pressure on both subscriber volume growth and ARPU has led to diverging strategies, with most operators focused on sustaining ARPU, but TalkTalk chasing volumes at the low end, with the former approach currently proving more successful

Looking forward, the benefit of BT’s price rise will fall away completely next quarter and market revenue growth will likely resume its downward trend, but the nadir may be within sight if the flight to quality persists at most operators

The highlight of Virgin Media’s Q1 results was the return to growth for its UK cable ARPU (+1.3%), although the improvement in trend should be interpreted with caution due to accounting changes

Headline group revenue growth of 5.2% was boosted by profit-neutral handset sales, with underlying growth of around 3.2% – still strong in the sector context

Virgin Media continues to do relatively well in the increasingly challenging UK broadband market, but with evidence of limited pricing power, sluggish roll-out and subscriber growth, revenue trends look set to slow

Spotify is now the world’s first publicly listed on-demand music streaming service. Its global footprint generated €4 billion in 2017 from over 70 million paying subscribers and 90 million ad-funded users across 65 countries

As it expands, the service is steadily but surely moving ever closer to profitability, with a 2019 operating profit a very real prospect

So far and for the near future, Spotify’s global pre-eminence versus competition from Apple, Amazon and Google proves remarkably resilient. Plans to build upon its differentiating features will become ever more decisive as the tech titans will continue to wield their resources and ecosystems against the comparatively undiversified company

Sky posted yet another set of solid results, with revenues up 5% and operating profits up 10%, despite weakening operating metrics in Germany & Austria

Deals with Netflix and Spotify will enhance the customer experience, signalling Sky's confidence in its platform, perhaps a sign of further deals to come

A successful outcome from February’s Premier League auction sealed the prospect of a takeover battle for Sky, with Comcast launching its formal bid this week

UK residential communications market revenue growth fell again to 1.2%, with weakening ARPU growth the main driver. New customer pricing remains flat to down, and existing customers are being increasingly discounted, fuelling the ARPU weakness

High speed broadband adoption is proceeding apace, but the high speed premium is fairly thin, muting the impact on ARPU. Regulated wholesale price cuts from Openreach finalised today and due in April 2018 will not help

Looking forward, the March quarter will benefit from price timing effects at BT and Virgin Media, but we fear that the rest of 2018 will follow the current downward trend and the operators will need to adjust to an ex-growth environment

 

Virgin Media’s Q4 performance was a little softer than expected, with subscriber figures quite weak and no improvement in ARPU growth despite a better implementation of its annual price rise

The cause is however likely market-driven, with broadband demand slowing and all operators struggling for ARPU growth, and Virgin Media does now lead the market for subscriber, RGU and revenue growth

The prospects for 2018 are solid if not spectacular, with Project Lightning driving market share gains and ARPU defended by a network speed advantage that will last for many years yet