A strong UK labour market, with record low unemployment but historically high vacancies, has supported growth in the recruitment industry, though trends may be peaking as we reach unknown territory. These trends play out in the recruitment market before they become apparent in the labour market

Despite the fragmentation of the online recruitment listings marketplace, Indeed is well-placed to dominate this space due to its increased scale and aggressive investment strategy

Both Google and Facebook have announced their intention to move into the recruitment listings sphere, which may have consequences not only for classified expenditure but further up the value chain with the agency model. However, both giants have attempted to move into online classifieds before, with little demonstrable success

The slowing UK economy since Q3 2016 has had a knock-on effect on the property and autos marketplaces underlying UK classified advertising revenues, with house prices slowing, transactions stabilising (instead of rising), and new car registrations down sharply in 2017 to date. Recruitment activity by agencies and employers has instead been dynamic as the UK nears full employment

Advertisers in these verticals continue to switch expenditure from print classifieds to internet portals and search, which offer superior lead generation, analytics, and user experience. Only in property do local newspapers still fulfill an important estate agency branding function for the local area, although declining readership is blunting this value to advertisers

Portal dominance comes at a price to advertisers in property, where Rightmove has resisted agent efforts to lessen dependence by listing on other brands, as well as in used autos, where Auto Trader has long reigned supreme. Recruitment is a more contested market for portals, reflecting the diverse and fragmented nature of the jobs market, but Indeed has a strong grip on the low-end, while LinkedIn remains unchallenged in social recruitment advertising

Print advertising in the autos classifieds marketplace keeps declining, but significant continued online growth steadies the helm

Five years on from new car financing innovations, and exasperated by changes in consumer behaviour towards greener tech, the used car market is braced for a flood

Auto Trader’s competitors force it to keep innovating, although having saturated the market, its dominance gives it enough headroom to worry about the weather breaking

We estimate that UK online ad spend grew by 12.3% this year, with growth concentrated almost exclusively in mobile search and social in-feed advertising (particularly video), and mostly incremental to overall ad spend

Even after payments to publishers and distributors, Google and Facebook captured 80% of all net new spend in the market, and 96% of it flowed through their platforms

Despite improving standardisation and disclosure, the outstanding issues around measurement, the ad-tech supply chain, and particularly the obscure and growing Google/Facebook/Amazon segment, lead us to identify a large portion of digital advertising as a “grey market”: difficult to get a handle on, with uncertain beneficiaries and slippery definitions

UK residential communications market revenue growth dipped to 2.1% in Q3. While volume growth continued to decline, the main driver was weakening ARPU growth, which was partly caused by price rise timing effects but there was also an underlying contribution

Longer term, slowing market volume growth has contributed to the market revenue growth drop over the last year, but slowing ARPU growth is also playing its part, and maintaining ARPU growth is becoming a major challenge for the operators given the discounting required to win and retain customers

Looking forward, price rise timings will continue to cause short-term revenue growth fluctuations, but the main long-term factor will be the trajectory of subscriber ARPU, and whether any growth in this can be sustained

TalkTalk continued to maintain positive broadband net adds in Q2 despite increased churn, and its on-net revenue growth turned positive as well, helped by the turnaround in subscriber growth trends and an overlapping price increase implemented during the quarter

The return to growth is taking its toll in marketing costs however, and the company is now guiding to a full year ‘headline’ EBITDA at the lower end of its previous given range, and this is after redefining ‘headline’ to exclude losses from its winding-down mobile business

Even this looks challenging given the cost trends in the first half of the year. The company’s new strategy of subscriber growth and focusing on the basics is probably the right one, but it is proving tough to implement in a slowing and increasingly competitive market

 

Virgin Media’s subscriber figures were flat on the prior year quarter, a robust performance in a slowing and increasingly competitive market, with ARPU growth still weak but at least not worsening

Project Lightning had another successful quarter, accelerating strongly and passing an additional 147k premises, which bodes well for subscriber acceleration into 2018

A recently implemented price increase should boost ARPU growth next quarter, on the basis that it successfully limits the retention discounting that characterised last year’s price increase, but such a boost will be limited by wider market pricing pressures

Digital advertising in the UK has been a phenomenal success story, but a concentrated one, such that many online media companies have not found a sustainable model

User payments are growing, but are currently focused on large, expensive bundles: Spotify, Netflix, the New York Times. This implements a hard division between free and paid and limits the potential audience

Micropayments and microsubscriptions are alternative models which content owners in certain media can use to address more types of demand. Multiple obstacles remain but for many companies the need to experiment has become critical

BT Group revenue growth dipped to -1.5% from an instance of rare modest positive growth in the previous quarter, albeit mostly due to a predicted price timing effect in Consumer and revenue growth predictably going from bad to worse in Global Services

The bright spots were continued strong 4% revenue growth at EE, with an acceleration in mobile-related revenue also helping other divisions, and strong growth of 5% in external revenues at Openreach driven by accelerating fibre adoption by competitor customers

A number of very important regulatory/policy/legal issues remain unresolved, including 5G spectrum auction rules, leased line pricing, FTTC pricing and FTTP roll-out rules, but without a number of these going BT’s way the outlook remains tough for at least the next 18 months

21CF’s bid for 100% ownership of Sky has been referred for a Phase 2 investigation to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which will decide by 6 March 2018

Third parties Avaaz and Ed Miliband MP complain of the influence of the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) and family members over the UK’s news agenda and political process 

A remedy could insulate Sky News from this influence. The offer of a Sky News Editorial Board at Phase 1 was refused. Third parties will ensure the debate in Phase 2 is very lively