Spotify paid $5 billion in royalties last year to the music industry. Critics claim the $0.0038 per-stream average royalty rate is too low. However, this is largely due to high volumes of ad-funded listening, a core part of Spotify’s freemium model, and a defence against piracy. 

To silence the critics, the “Spotify Loud & Clear” site presents data on the distribution of industry royalties, which are heavily skewed to established artists. Only the top 5% of artists generate annual industry royalties above $1,000, though they take home less under their deals. 

The remaining 95% of artists on Spotify generate under $1,000 a year and use the platform mainly to reach fans that attend live gigs, their primary source of income, now halted by the virus. These artists’ problem is digital discovery, as Spotify’s playlists push hits rather than the midlist. 

The sector rebounded slightly in the quarter to December thanks to a seasonal improvement in the roaming drag, although the partial lockdown tempered the recovery.

We await imminent news on spectrum trading, and there may also be some licence fee reductions as a consequence of the lower prices in the recent 5G auction.

While the sector is likely to continue to struggle into Q1, the outlook is much brighter thereafter thanks to the annualisation and even reversal of some lockdown effects, and to higher price increases from the spring.

Goods ecommerce accelerated in 2020 by four years above trend to reach 28% of retail sales (excl. fuels) from 19% in 2019. We anticipate that ecommerce in 2021 will remain in the same share range of 27-29%. 

Food and drink grew faster than any online category in 2020, doubling to over 10% of associated sales. Aside from food and drink, the agony of zero sales on the shuttered high street continued, with over half of all sales being online in 2020, likely persisting in Q1 2021.

Offline retailing will recover due to deconfinement and the share of ecommerce will edge down in Q2 2021 and thereafter, but these new shopping habits will be sticky and anchored by persistent work-from-home, driving all retailers that are left standing to massively adopt online channels and associated advertising media.

Ofcom’s second 5G auction concluded with proceeds half those of historic levels for a number of reasons.

The outcome is positive for all operators with no major surprises. The results imply a much more level playing field for the UK mobile operators than in the past.

A relief for the operators but proceeds for the exchequer will be disappointing, and ALF renegotiation may reduce their revenue steam further.

The wave of deal-making in the European towers sector is driven by cash-strapped telcos seeking a form of sale and leaseback financing.

While the operators are incentivised to provide a medium-term growth trajectory for these towers companies, sustainability of that growth is more questionable, especially as 5G will not require additional base stations.

Cellnex continues to insinuate itself into the UK market with its most recent deal signaling the ultimate unwinding of the MBNL JV. Further UK towers consolidation seems a long way off but could facilitate, or indeed be facilitated by, consolidation at the MNO level.

Facebook emerged from 2020 reporting record revenue growth of 22% over the year, built on its huge volume of usage, its simple buying tools and its trove of first-party data.

Facebook’s ability to match third-party data for targeting and attribution is also central to its success. However, Apple and Google are restricting data-matching tools like third-party cookies and mobile IDs, and Facebook is moving to minimise the damage.

Facebook is trying to turn its sites into storefronts by launching ‘Facebook Shops’. It is also taking public stands on the use of data for advertising, and on the need for brand-building in marketing plans. These are conversations all advertisers and media owners should be engaged with.

All of O2’s operational metrics ticked up this quarter with service revenue growth, continued strong net adds and OIBDA growth particular highlights in spite of the end of O2’s Carphone Warehouse relationship.

Next quarter will be hit by the prolonged lockdown and, in spite of an improving picture thereafter, there remain several challenges particularly lower in-contract price rises than peers and some pressure on MVNO revenues post Sky MVNO renegotiation.

The merger with Virgin Media appears on track for a mid-year approval. O2 management will need to work hard to sustain their sharp operational focus at a time when merger integration and strategic question marks risk diverting much of their attention.

Italy's Serie A could award its 2021-24 broadcasting rights tomorrow to either Sky or DAZN (backed by TIM) for a fee significantly down on the previous cycle.

Either outcome looks good for Sky: increasing coverage at a lower fee, or pivoting to aggregation as DAZN will need to access Sky’s subscriber base.

DAZN and its ally TIM are also shifting strategy, but with weak rationale. The Italian auction reinforces our expectation of a drop in Premier League fees in the imminent British tender.

Google is demonstrating support for news by stepping up its efforts to license content from publishers and provide unpaywalled access within its Google News app—an attempt to diffuse regulatory pressure.

The issue of incentives to sustain scale businesses that originate and distribute high quality news in the digital era is still left unanswered.

Facebook has taken an opposite strategy, banning the sharing of news in Australia on their platforms—a risky, yet calculated move.

Generating cash is top of Vodafone’s agenda right now, and we may be seeing early signs of that driving operational tactics ahead of resolving its leverage crisis through either an IPO of Vantage or a sale of its Iberian assets.

EBITDA growth would really help. Analyst forecasts of +4% for next year are not supported by recent history and a simple bounce-back of roaming revenues should not be assumed.

Q3 results were a mixed bag with the very slight improvement in revenue trends accounted for by easing roaming pressure. Green shoots in German fixed is a highlight, with growth in UK mobile a touch disappointing.