Sky appears to have weathered the COVID-19 crisis, revealing an encouraging turnaround in its Q3 operating results, with revenue growth flat overall as each stream saw significant improvement from Q2.

Rights costs from a condensed sporting schedule began to hit EBITDA, which remains guided to fall by 60% across H2, with most of the impact in Q4. This was anticipated long ago, and Sky’s ambition remains to double 2020’s EBITDA “over the next several years”.

Having disclosed contrasting performances between its markets, Sky now appears more clearly committed to replicating its UK success in both Italy and Germany, with tangible plans in place to streamline costs and rebalance content expenditure—namely by “resetting” its spend on sports rights.

Advertising demand has risen, with total ad revenue down just 7% in Q3, and Q4 expected to be slightly up—this means ITV will be down just over 10% across 2020.

COVID-19 has accelerated viewing shifts, along with corporate restructuring across the entire sector to try and keep up. ITV is no exception, although the creation of its new Media and Entertainment Division may be less revolutionary than it could appear.

Studios revenue was down 19% for nine months to September but 85% of paused productions are now completed or underway, with nothing major still stalled. However, the added costs of COVID-19 protocols are material and will linger.

Channel 4’s 2019 results were solid but unsurprisingly, greater interest is in how the broadcaster has fared in 2020, and what this might mean for its future.

Despite very grim early forecasts, Channel 4 has seen advertisers rush back, with ad revenue likely to only be down 8-10% YoY. Compared to the estimates of −25% to −40% at the height of the pandemic, this is almost cause for elation.

2021 will arrive with a tough comparator in Q1, however COVID-19 has materially accelerated Channel 4’s transition to digital through shifts in viewing behaviour, an existential project that the broadcaster hopes will be supported by changes to its commitments as a result of the upcoming PSB review.

In this report, we examine the completion rates of every scripted series since 2018 across all the major UK broadcast channels.

Comparing scripted programmes across different channels by overall viewing is difficult as these numbers are affected by promotion, prominence, competition, the quality of online player UIs and availability.

The rate that series are completed—viewing of the final episode as a proportion of the first episode—eliminates these and allows comparison.

Netflix’s usage and churn are “back to what they were a year ago”, while subscriber growth was down (+2.2 million globally) as the two levers—reduction in churn and the "pull-forward" effect of the pandemic—for its recent explosive growth softened

Although there will be some lag, content production is back to a near steady state. Since the shutdown eased Netflix has completed principal photography on 50+ productions and the company is optimistic that it will complete shooting on over 150 other productions by year end

The pandemic has handed Netflix residual benefits, including an acceleration of the changes in viewing behaviour and an improved position in terms of cash: it stated that its “need for external financing is diminishing [so] we don’t have plans to access the capital markets this year”

STV now has a clear pathway to reduce its reliance on linear advertising by investing in production, while pushing the transition to digital forward with a UK-wide footprint.

To that end, STV Player has some momentum and recent production company acquisitions, increasing external commissions and PSB Out of London quotas should ensure STV Studios returns to growth in 2021.

Such development is imperative: COVID-19 has accelerated structural change in viewing habits meaning now that content must not only be great, but available widely and immersed in a smooth user experience just to have a chance.

 

With a lack of live sport, the lockdown weighed on incumbent pay-TV platforms’ subscriptions. SVOD providers leveraged their cheap positioning—Netflix and Amazon Prime Video now rank above other subscription services in Europe, and Disney+ had a successful launch.

Incumbents—Sky, Canal+, Movistar+—all pursue a twin-track strategy. They are positioning themselves as gatekeepers thanks to service bundles, while redirecting resources away from sports towards original series.

European productions are increasingly garnering audiences outside of their home markets, regardless of the production language. Netflix is a major conduit for European exports, due to personalisation of the interface and high-quality dubbing.

Despite numerous examples of critical acclaim for BBC Three programming over the last couple of years, the evidence suggests that its audience has collapsed since the closure of its linear TV channel in 2016.

Annual viewing minutes of BBC Three programming are down by more than 70% compared to its last year of linear TV broadcasting, and weekly reach amongst its target demographic of 16-34s has fallen by c. 70%—a loss far greater than those of other TV channels.

More difficult to assess are the effects of the shift in content strategy. Comedy programming, for example, proportionally shrank in terms of the total volume available while receiving a greater share of consumption, in direct contrast to factual content’s fate. 

The COVID-19 crisis and suspension of sport has hit Sky hard, with Q2 revenue falling 12.9% year-on-year, and EBITDA (while flat for now) expected to fall 60% in H2 as the rights costs from a condensed schedule hit the bottom line

Underlying trends are hard to discern amidst massive disruption, but the UK remains strong, and increasingly less dependent on sport, with continental Europe a work in progress to repeat this model

Longer-term initiatives continue, with new branded channel launches in the UK, broadband launched in Italy, and scope for further moves in Germany provided by significant sports rights cost savings following recent auctions