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.

A move away from premium sport is long overdue from BT, with there having proved to be little strategic, 'halo' or other cross-over benefit to its core broadband and mobile businesses.

BT Sport has managed to dramatically increase its pricing since launch, with little evidence of significant net subscriber leakage, which has driven 'standalone' profitability and allows a partial or full sale.

A sale would not likely cover BT's full losses to date, but a partner could enhance the value of the asset, and an eventual full sale would reduce risk for BT and enable it to fully focus on its broadband and mobile core businesses.

On 9 and 10 March 2021, Enders Analysis co-hosted the annual Media & Telecoms 2021 & Beyond conference with Deloitte, and 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 ofthe speakers on Day 1, with keynote speeches and sessions on: sustainability in the TMT sector, news media, telecoms, and tech. Videos of the presentations are also available on the conference website.

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.

Market revenue growth sunk back to -3% in Q4 from -2% in Q3, with further backbook pricing and lockdown effects to blame .

Backbook pricing will improve with numerous price increases announced, but these will only start to take effect in Q2 2021.

Demand for broadband and ultrafast looks promising, but will also take time to filter through to revenue, with Q1 again lockdown-affected.

Ofcom’s full fibre regulation statement, released today, is largely as trailed, i.e. it allows BT’s Openreach considerable relaxation of wholesale pricing in return for building out full fibre.

On the longer-term regulatory prospects, Ofcom continues to be fair but more obtuse than it could and should be, unnecessarily dampening investor enthusiasm. Ofcom will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow Openreach to offer geographic/volume discounts, using slightly contradictory principles.

The publication and increased certainty may allow BT’s Openreach to extend its full fibre roll-out further, faster or even with external financing. The build plans of others will come under increasing question.

BT’s December quarter results were mixed, with revenue growth improving but EBITDA growth worsening, and next quarter will be hit by the effects of lockdown 3 on mobile, with B2B likely to be hit by business failures following the end of furlough.

BT has maintained/nudged up its financial guidance regardless, and there are plenty of positive longer-term signs, with subscriber growth strong in the quarter, pricing pressure easing, and full fibre roll-out and adoption progressing nicely.

Overall, we expect the road to continue to be bumpy, but a recovery by 2022/23 still seems very plausible, ultimately driven by the wholesale and retail benefits of full fibre, and perhaps helped if it can get ‘Digital’ right, a particular challenge historically for BT.

TalkTalk’s latest results were mixed at best, with ARPU and revenue growth improving off a low last quarter, but net adds worsening, EBITDA falling sharply and full year EBITDA guidance suspended.

Its outlook remains challenging, with the move to high speed still a drag on EBITDA, and the migration to ultrafast a further (even greater) challenge, although this brings opportunity as well, especially if the company can move away from its discount brand focus.

Its prospective new owners highlight the need to invest in brand, systems, and full fibre capabilities to meet this challenge, but it is not clear where the money to do this is coming from, and it is also not clear if the desire to ‘reposition the brand’ includes a move upmarket.

Market revenue growth fell in Q3 to below 1%, and may drop below zero next quarter as existing customer pricing comes under more pressure

New customer pricing is however rising, and average pricing should rise much further as ultrafast increases in availability and popularity 

Political enthusiasm for full fibre should be welcomed, although some specific plans are likely to do more harm than good if implemented literally
 

Virgin Media had a challenging quarter, with its early price rise driving weak subscriber figures and product spin-down, resulting in reduced revenue growth and an accelerated OCF decline

The market environment remains challenging with very competitive pricing on superfast and little push for ultrafast, but superfast pricing is easing and competitors’ ultrafast pushes should accelerate in 2020

Full fibre roll-outs remain a threat and an opportunity in almost equal measure, with Virgin Media’s positioning likely to be clarified as the regulatory mist clears over the next year