The BBC’s licence fee settlement process for 2022 to 2027 is now underway. This time there seems to be greater transparency than the previous negotiations in 2010 and 2015 which led to outcomes that effectively reduced licence fee income by c. 30%

It comes at a pivotal time for the BBC, and by extension the creative community across the UK which it supports. Recovery of this important sector relies heavily on the ability of the BBC to operate in the way that its remit requires: with investment, skills, intellectual property and talent flowing to the wider environment

But with £1.6 billion falling due over the next decade on its pension obligations and its Nations & Regions footprint alone, there is little room for manoeuvre if there are further reductions in revenues or top-slicing. The result will be less investment on the screen and a wound to a struggling sector

The US Department of Justice antitrust case against Google alleges an illegal monopoly in search and search advertising in their home and largest market.

The lawsuit targets Google's control of the Android mobile operating system and exclusive revenue share agreement with Apple, which the EU prohibited in 2018, a decision that Google has appealed.

Alongside antitrust enforcement, legislative initiatives in the EU and UK will create an ex ante antitrust framework for relations between “gatekeeper” platforms and their users and customers, which the US Congress has yet to emulate.

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.

On 1 October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced $1 billion for worldwide news publisher partnerships for a novel News Showcase product, helping them to distribute their content to a new audience.

It is an important milestone: for the first time Google will pay publishers to curate content in the Google News app (initially), and to provide unpaywalled access to articles on publishers’ websites that users can click through to.

In so doing, Google is defusing the simmering conflict with publishers in major markets, and showing policy-makers its willingness to collaborate with a news industry facing existential threats.

 

Virgin Media’s lockdown subscriber surge continued into Q3, as working-from-home highlights the importance of the faster speeds its network can offer.

ARPU is more challenged, and will get worse next quarter given its forgone price rise, but price rises are back in fashion in the industry, so this problem is likely to prove temporary.

Openreach’s full fibre remains a medium-term threat, but the company is rightly taking advantage while its network superiority remains, with momentum firmly in its favour for now.

The launch of new games consoles this week showcases broadly divergent strategies for Sony and Microsoft, with market leader PlayStation focused solely on defending its model against the rising tide of cheaper subscription games services.

Xbox's consumer offer is the best value proposition for these difficult economic times, attracting new customers and positioning for growth, and stopping slavish devotion to 'core gamers' in the process.

Amazon's Luna lands, providing big competition in game streaming services for Google's Stadia. But nobody is taking any notice, as neither provide a real breakthrough for the industry or great value for gamers. Stadia’s lifespan could be limited.

BT’s revenue growth remained very suppressed in the September quarter at -7%, with a limited COVID-19 recovery chocked off by seasonal roaming effects and regulator-inspired pricing forbearance.

EBITDA growth did improve to -3% from -7% last quarter, mainly due to short-term cost actions and the early impact of its longer-term cost program, and the company has upgraded its short- and longer-term EBITDA targets.

The company is also optimistic on a longer-term return to underlying revenue growth, helped by a return to regular existing customer price increases and the impact of full fibre, but not until 2023, with a few bumps in the road before then.

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.