February 27, 2002 Reports
The UK Internet population continued to grow very slowly in the fall of 2001, reaching 14.7 million home users (30% adult penetration rate). Although this slow pace of customer growth may give dot.com investors pause for concern, we found some good news on e-tailing to report, such as higher numbers of purchasers - to almost 9 million - and positive experiences online that will lead to repeat shopping. Books, clothes, DVDs and computer games were especially popular items. Bricks-and-clicks e-tailers like WHSmith, Argos and John Lewis are well positioned to take advantage of offline/online marketing synergies, but Amazon (around 3 million unique visitors) is impressive in execution. Tesco has retained its very wide lead over other online supermarkets, almost doubling reach to 9% of home Internet users in 2001, and Argos is also doing well. This note looks in detail at the reseller business model, and in particular for BT service providers taking over BT lines, where Oftel has just mandated a wholesale line rental' product. We think the small international call segment is unappealing for entry as competition is already fierce. The new entrant will also find it difficult to establish a foothold on the local and national calls segments where substitution of mobile telephony is draining any dynamism from the market. Even more ominous is the advantage the BT Together packages have given BT over resellers in the customer segment most likely to be aggressively marketed by stretchy brands: families making off-peak and weekend calls to family and friends.
The UK Internet population continued to grow very slowly in the fall of 2001, reaching 14.7 million home users (30% adult penetrati [...]
February 22, 2002 Reports
Sky's continued excellent performance has attracted favourable comment in the weeks since its half yearly results. But much of the commentary missed some critical points. The analysts did not question Sky's assertions that it was successfully targeting high value customers. Actually, the last half-year saw a fall in the numbers taking the top-priced package. Similarly, few commentators noticed that despite the favourable comments in the results announcement, interactive revenues actually fell last quarter. The steepest rate of decline was seen in betting, which a year ago was going to be application that formed the core of Sky's interactive ARPU. Similarly nobody seemed to have noticed that Sky's overall share of TV viewing declined in the quarter, despite the addition of two hundred thousand new subscribers. According to the Financial Times (27/03/2002), the European Commission is planning to clamp down on the cost of calling mobiles' and issue tough new rules', which would make it easier for national telecoms regulators to force mobile phone companies to reduce excessive call termination charges'. According to our research, this is an exaggerated assessment: the likeliest outcome would be a Commission recommendation on best practice' guidelines, rather than new rules. Our research also shows that the pressures from NRAs on MNOs to lower mobile termination charges are highly uneven in the top three markets: they are most acute in the UK (predictably, given the pro-consumer orientation of Oftel), less significant but nevertheless present in Italy, and non-existent in Germany. Thus, if the UK Competition Commission endorses Oftel's proposed charge cap in its forthcoming ruling, we can expect the four leading UK MNOs to lose about £880 million in revenues for the 2002-2006 period, with the annual reduction in 2002-2003 estimated at about £265 million.
Sky's continued excellent performance has attracted favourable comment in the weeks since its half yearly results. But much of the [...]
February 15, 2002 Reports
The mobile operators in the UK and elsewhere probably make a higher margin on SMS than on any other product. We think that about 30% of a UK operator's gross margin in derived from SMS and the percentage is rising. This report asks the question 'why should mobile operators launch any other mobile data products aimed at consumers?'. SMS now generates about £800 per megabyte of traffic. GPRS prices fall to about £1 per megabyte to heavy users. We conclude that operators may say that they are focusing on new consumer data services, but the reality will be very different as they work to protect their golden goose. In the long run, we think that SMS is vulnerable to Instant Messaging services introduced onto networks by innovative third parties. (In the US, where SMS has not really taken off, and thus the operators have no profits to protect, these applications are already available on some GSM networks). The survey showed the typical UK consumer expects to keep his or her phone an average of 39 months. The most likely reason for changing would that the owner's existing phone no longer works. Younger consumers will replace their phone much more swiftly than the average.
The mobile operators in the UK and elsewhere probably make a higher margin on SMS than on any other product. We think that about 30 [...]
February 11, 2002 Reports
The painful restructuring process at NTL is probably well underway. Holders of NTL bonds will have to accept a significant reduction in the nominal value of their holdings. To us, the crucial question is how much debt the slimmed-down UK businesses of NTL can afford to have on the balance sheet. If everything goes right, the number is something over £3 billion. But things will not go right, and the underlying debt capacity of NTL is probably considerably less than a billion pounds. As noted, TV viewing did indeed fall sharply in the first quarter. Viewership of the main analogue channel, ITV, fell faster. And this is not caused by multichannel competition. ITV's share has fallen fastest in analogue terrestrial-only homes. Sky has been a beneficiary, as have ITV2 and E4, the digital offspring of the main commercial channels.
The painful restructuring process at NTL is probably well underway. Holders of NTL bonds will have to accept a significant reductio [...]
February 7, 2002 Reports
This brief note concerns further evidence of strong price sensitivity to broadband prices, as provided by Oftel's recent qualitative research. Since we expect an announcement from BT Group on February 26th regarding reduction of DSL wholesale prices to levels consistent with retail pricing of £30/month or slightly less, this is topical. In addition, we point to BTopenworld's very high market share (75% plus) in residential DSL installations so far.
This brief note concerns further evidence of strong price sensitivity to broadband prices, as provided by Oftel's recent qualitativ [...]
January 22, 2002 Reports
The charges imposed by the mobile operators for handling incoming calls are a very important part of their revenue stream. The UK telecoms regulator is attempting to force the networks to reduce their prices significantly. The row has just been referred to the UK competition authorities. We look at the arguments used by Oftel to justify its harsh stance. We conclude that the evidence supports the regulator's view that incoming call charges are held artificially high. As a result, analysts should expect that the UK networks will fail to see the charge cap reversed. The impact on revenue will be about 7% in the next four-year period. This will flow straight to the profit line. Increases in fixed to mobile call volumes, as a result of the lower prices, will partly offset this. Wanadoo's aim of being the #2 broadband ISP in Europe (behind T-Online, way ahead) was adversely affected in Q1 2002 by the decision of the French Competition Commission to halt the marketing of the company's product through the network of France Telecom, so other ISPs can also have a chance to establish a foothold. Wanadoo has had to resort to other, more expensive, marketing platforms, and sales are running at about 70% of the pace before the decision. Wanadoo is also looking for a strong showing on broadband from Freeserve, just entering the market now: 70,000 broadband subscribers by year-end, and a quarter million by mid-2003. We are sceptical whether the brand can shake its reputation for cheap Internet service, which continues to attract a large PAYG base.
The charges imposed by the mobile operators for handling incoming calls are a very important part of their revenue stream. The UK t [...]
January 16, 2002 Reports
This report is a companion to Broadband Europe (2002-02), issued concurrently, and looks more closely at cable's ability to compete with incumbents on marketing broadband. Key points include: The outlook for the industry is further enhanced by the impact of much lower paper costs, allied with cost measures on print usage, and reduction in expenditure on online ventures. The industry is increasingly benefiting from best practice although anomalies remain in margins that indicate further room for improvement. Editorial investment has not alas managed to halt continuing slow declines in circulation that are inevitable in our opinion.
This report is a companion to Broadband Europe (2002-02), issued concurrently, and looks more closely at cable's ability to compete [...]
January 16, 2002 Reports
The potential for residential broadband connectivity in France, Germany and the UK depends on the availability of low-priced broadband products (hardware, installation and monthly subscriptions) and a narrow pricing gap with existing Internet access packages. Unless monthly subscriptions fall below 30 (from current comparable levels of 45 and up) and hassle-free self-installation is ubiquitous, consumers will not migrate from narrowband, even if they appreciate the faster surfing and download speeds of broadband. But regulators are guarding against any price declines from the incumbents, having put their faith in infrastructure-based competition through local loop unbundling (LLU) and upgrading of cable infrastructure. We believe that expectations of alternative supply of broadband through either of these routes in France and Germany are misplaced; in the UK, broadband cable will make more headway due to specific historical and regulatory factors, while there will be no effective alternative supply of residential DSL through LLU. In its projections supporting its £3.2 billion debt financing, H3G projects 172,000 subs in 2002, 1.2 million by end 2003 and 9 million by end 2010. Combined with projected ARPU of £40/month (or about current contract ARPU in the UK), H3G's revenue projections come to £2 billion in 2005 (note UK mobile market in total = £10 billion today).
The potential for residential broadband connectivity in France, Germany and the UK depends on the availability of low-priced broadb [...]
January 15, 2002 Reports
The flow of news about ITV is going from bad to worse. But we think that the market may have misunderstood the real story behind last week's bombshell that ITV viewing has fallen by 25% in a year. This figure could have been predicted from existing data.
The flow of news about ITV is going from bad to worse. But we think that the market may have misunderstood the real story behind la [...]Sector FTA TV.
December 21, 2001 Reports
15 million UK adults regularly (at least once a month) accessed the Internet from home in Q3 2001, the same as in Q2 2001. This stagnation is due to mainly seasonal factors and we expect growth of the home Internet population to be renewed in the autumn and winter. Our lower forecasts are derived from an analysis of the numbers of households and small businesses that are apparently prepared to buy ADSL at current price levels, but also driven by concerns about this particular product. Users will have to acquire new email addresses and pay for a new email service. We do not think the product will work in networked multi-PC homes or offer ISDN users a real alternative. We see tremendous confusion in the marketplace from two competing BT Broadband offerings from BT Retail and BTopenworld.
15 million UK adults regularly (at least once a month) accessed the Internet from home in Q3 2001, the same as in Q2 2001. This sta [...]
December 20, 2001 Reports
This report contains our analysis of the French TV market. France, like the UK, is a difficult market for pay-TV and, recently, for some analogue terrestrial channels as well. We look at the analogies and differences between the two countries. In both places, excess competition and declining advertising revenues are beginning to create cracks in the noble edifices of the major TV groups. As in the UK, we conclude that analogue commercial TV may be less affected by digitalisation and pay-TV than most analysts expect. We conclude that the economics of both free and premium digital terrestrial television are so unattractive that no rational bidder would enter the race for the licence. Likely advertising revenue on free channels will barely cover the transmission costs, while pay services will be crippled by astronomical subscriber management costs and low, or negative, margins on channels provided by BSkyB.
This report contains our analysis of the French TV market. France, like the UK, is a difficult market for pay-TV and, recently, for [...]
December 19, 2001 Reports
In this note we summarise the available evidence on trends in ARPU among European mobile operators. We demonstrate the increasing trend towards stable or increasing revenue per subscriber in key markets. The end to the long downward trend in voice ARPU is clearly in sight. This new stability is derived from increasingly firm call charges and slow growth in minutes of use. Local competitive conditions may disrupt this pattern in individual countries and we demonstrate the countervailing trend in Finland but, overall, the pattern is clear and will probably become more so in the next few months. More important, perhaps, the current economics look acceptable both for BT's Wholesale and Openworld divisions - this note includes some detailed financial analysis. But even at the lower price levels, we remain unconvinced whether subscriber numbers will grow as rapidly as BT predicts. (BT is now saying that ADSL subscribers will be more numerous in 2005 than unmetered customers are today!)
In this note we summarise the available evidence on trends in ARPU among European mobile operators. We demonstrate the increasing t [...]
December 18, 2001 Reports
The regional newspaper business in the UK is a mature industry with improved operating management and a small number of powerful players. The bulk of the report examines in detail the structural forces determining the growth of ISPs in Wanadoo's main territories - France and the UK. It looks at the scope for raising revenues through broadband growth, increased advertising or e-commerce revenues. We look at market shares, and the factors that drive growth and decline.
The regional newspaper business in the UK is a mature industry with improved operating management and a small number of powerful pl [...]Sector Print Media.
December 14, 2001 Reports
Microsoft XP has wider significance than most analysts appreciate. While the operating system is, in itself, not a huge advance on existing products - particularly Windows 2000 - its true significance lies in its value as a Trojan Horse for Microsoft .NET. As we indicated in the spring of this year, we think .NET moves Microsoft into direct competition with businesses as diverse as ISPs, mobile network operators and home electronics companies. Widespread adoption of XP makes the eventual success of .NET more secure
Microsoft XP has wider significance than most analysts appreciate. While the operating system is, in itself, not a huge advance on [...]
December 10, 2001 Reports
Nokia's recent guidance suggested a modest recovery in handset sales in 2002, followed by a strong resurgence thereafter. We think the position will be different and look for unit sales of about 450m next year, with only 3-7% growth in the years 2003-2005.
Nokia's recent guidance suggested a modest recovery in handset sales in 2002, followed by a strong resurgence thereafter. We think [...]
November 29, 2001 Reports
In this short note, we look at trends in mobile design and features. We show that the steady decline in size and weight is now over, and manufacturers are focusing on adding new functions, such as digital cameras, and even, in one case, a thermometer. In this issue, Toby looks at recent evidence on UK multichannel viewing, particularly in the period immediately prior to the start of the new BARB audience panel.
In this short note, we look at trends in mobile design and features. We show that the steady decline in size and weight is now over [...]
November 23, 2001 Reports
Mobile operators' marketing strategies are the primary determinant of the size of the market for handsets. The level of handset subsidy dramatically affects retailer sales. In this brief note, we look at the changes in retail subsidies in the UK during the past 6 months. We show how the emphasis on the acquisition of contract customers has meant higher levels of subsidy for the phones taken by these customers. By contrast, pre-pay subsidies have fallen.
Mobile operators' marketing strategies are the primary determinant of the size of the market for handsets. The level of handset sub [...]
November 21, 2001 Reports
This report provides an update on the major trends in the UK digital TV market. We use a variety of consumer market research data, which all offer a consistent picture of trends in the business. Sky is doing well. But the evidence of the last quarter's results suggests that it is not out of the wood yet.
This report provides an update on the major trends in the UK digital TV market. We use a variety of consumer market research data, [...]
November 20, 2001 Reports
The most recent quarterly operating statistics for the UK pay-TV providers point to the continued rapid slow-down in consumer subscriptions. This short note analyses the figures and offers a forecast for subscriber numbers over the next decade. Business mobile data may be different. Mobile professionals are not major users of SMS, and will be prepared to pay for mobile access to networks. But we still have trouble seeing data accounting for more than 25% of operators' revenues by the last years of the decade. Much of this revenue will still be derived from plain vanilla SMS, provided the regulators don't sink their teeth into the networks first.
The most recent quarterly operating statistics for the UK pay-TV providers point to the continued rapid slow-down in consumer subsc [...]
November 14, 2001 Reports
Yesterday's third quarter results were broadly in line with market expectations. Analysts have noted that subscriber numbers are stagnant and that ARPU for domestic subscribers was essentially flat, quarter-on-quarter. The growth in broadband subscribers has been a real achievement - but the revenue benefit of adding even 35,000 new subscribers is less than £10m a year. This does not go very far in paying back debts over a thousand times as large. To the potential US investors in NTL's equity, such as AOL and Liberty, this number must seem absurdly low. Cable businesses of a roughly comparable size in the States are worth tens of billions. We point to the key difference between the US and the UK. Overall ARPU levels are roughly comparable in the States, and capex levels are similar. The crucial difference is probably the systematically higher gross margins on cable TV in the States. This seems to explain most of the difference in cash generating capacity. Can the cable guys from the US increase gross margins on TV programming to US levels and thus make the equity in NTL worth something? We think it is most unlikely - even Sky makes less than a 50% gross margin, far less than a US cable company.
Yesterday's third quarter results were broadly in line with market expectations. Analysts have noted that subscriber numbers are st [...]
November 2, 2001 Reports
The issues surrounding ITV Digital are complex and unclear. This report tries to unpick the tangled threads. It looks at the main financial issues and the manoeuvres with the BBC, the Office of Fair Trading and the set-top box manufacturers.
The issues surrounding ITV Digital are complex and unclear. This report tries to unpick the tangled threads. It looks at the main f [...]Sector FTA TV.
October 25, 2001 Reports
In this short note Chris Goodall looks at consumer payment technologies. He says that the banks and credit card companies are under no immediate threat from new technologies. Do not be confused by the wizard new technologies coming out of Nokia; technical advances are not going to change payment systems much in the next five years. Rather, he suggests, observers should focus on three interesting companies which use low technology solutions to solve particular payments problems. These companies support, rather than undermine, existing players in the consumer payments industry.
In this short note Chris Goodall looks at consumer payment technologies. He says that the banks and credit card companies are under [...]
October 23, 2001 Reports
This note provides an update on UK Internet trends covering the post-Christmas period. It covers usage, shopping and other online activities of the 17.7 million connected adults. The note highlights the feminisation of the UK online population and its impact on shopping behaviour. Broadband cable suffers from several technical performance problems, including installation, actual performance and the costs of providing content, in particular to gamers. In Germany, less than 5% of cable homes have been upgraded to digital, suggesting that Deutsche Telekom's DSL push has irresistible momentum.
This note provides an update on UK Internet trends covering the post-Christmas period. It covers usage, shopping and other online a [...]
October 19, 2001 Reports
In our recent report on the prospects for BT, we looked at the pressures on the company resulting from declining prices, static call volumes and increased competition from mobile. In France, mass marketing by France Télécom and Wanadoo, lack of availability of unmetered, and ubiquitous self-installation have allowed DSL to increase its market share from circa 40% in mid-2001 to an estimated 70% by end 2001 (300,000 DSL connections plus). We expect cable operators' market share of the broadband market to continue to decline to circa 15% by 2005. We assume that the current European Commission investigation into Wanadoo's DSL pricing will lead to maintenance of current prices (circa 45/month) through 2003. In our opinion, lack of sustained price declines to 30/month or less will limit the French broadband market to 2.5 million connections by 2005 (25% penetration of Internet households).
In our recent report on the prospects for BT, we looked at the pressures on the company resulting from declining prices, static cal [...]