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  • April 12, 2016

    European mobile in Q4 2015 – The challengers’ challenge

    European mobile service revenue growth was flat at -0.8%, while underlying country movements were somewhat more dramatic. The key highlights were Italy returning to positive growth driven by pricing stability, and France showing worsening growth decline for the first time in over two years impacted by challenger telco pricing cuts. An assessment of these challenger telcos highlights a somewhat precarious position, as continued price aggression yields diminishing incremental gains, and they all remain some way from gaining the scale to achieve profitability. The only incentive for challengers to remain aggressive is as an encouragement for their competitors to buy them; increasing regulatory hurdles to consolidation would remove even this incentive, leaving price increases as their only rational route to profitability.
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  • April 7, 2016

    UK broadband, telephony and pay TV trends Q4 2015: Diversified gr [...]

    The UK residential communications market maintained strong growth of 6% in Q4, helped by overlapping price increases at BT and TalkTalk, albeit mitigated by weaker volume growth as a result of the TalkTalk cyber-attack.

    This strong growth level benefits from multiple factors, including continually growing broadband adoption, broadband ARPU being boosted by the shift to superfast, price increases across line rental, calls and premium pay TV, and additional pay TV adoption at the lower end.

    We expect a modest dip in market revenue growth moving into 2016 as various one-off boosts drop out, but the underlying drivers of growth are sufficiently diversified to give us confidence that further downside is limited.

  • March 31, 2016

    UK mobile market Q4 2015: Growth softly softens

    UK mobile service revenue growth dipped down in Q4, but at least remained still just positive at 0.3%. The dip was driven by contract ARPU weakness at the largest three operators, mitigated by strong ARPU growth at the smallest operator H3G. Looking forward, the sources of weakness (growth of SIM-only and tariff policy adjustments) look more temporary than the sources of growth (data volume growth filling up capacity). SIM-only is likely to hit a natural ceiling, whereas data volume growth has no ceiling in sight and the scope for network capacity expansion is limited. With CK Hutchison currently negotiating with the European Commission in regards to the fate of the H3G and O2 merger, there is a high level of uncertainty on the future of the structure of the UK mobile market. Merging the two networks would generate extra capacity and capability, likely increasing competitive intensity, but the precise form this would take is unclear, as is the future of the brands and the identity of the capacity MVNO recipient(s).
  • Mobile Google: beyond the smartphone
    Mobile Google: beyond the smartphone
    March 30, 2016

    Ofcom’s Digital Communications Review: Blessed are the investo [...]

    Ofcom is encouraging competitive investment in local access networks using BT’s ducts and poles; in our view this is very unlikely to happen on a large scale, due to both the lack of spare capacity in existing plant and the generally poor prospective economics of a third local access network in the UK. Ofcom’s favoured model for Openreach is an enhanced version of the current structural separation model, and this is most likely to be reached via a negotiated settlement with BT; this and a number of other proposed measures, if implemented, will increase Openreach’s costs, and these costs will be re-charged to both BT’s retail division and its DSL competitors. Ofcom remains keen to retain four mobile network operators, in spite of clear evidence that at most three are viable at current retail price levels, and it is keen to implement a number of interventionist consumer protection measures that suggest it is keen on competition in theory, but not so much in practice.
  • March 23, 2016

    Apple’s iPhone bargain

    More attractively priced than previous entry level iPhones, the new SE extends Apple’s smartphone lineup down towards the mid-price segment to better compete with Android over price-sensitive users. At a time of investor concern over slowing down iPhone unit sales, the SE marks the first shift in Apple’s strategic calculus for the iPhone from gross margins to unit volumes. SE supports the iOS ecosystem in a crucial period of growth for mobile payment services, making the entire iPhone roster Apple Pay compatible.

  • March 11, 2016

    H3G and O2: Merging thoughts

    H3G and O2 are planning for their UK merger to create a mobile-only operator that leads the market in network quality and capacity, taking a contrary approach to the current trend of fixed/mobile convergent strategies. The merger would ease the severe spectral capacity constraints currently faced by both operators, and ease the scale disadvantage suffered by H3G ever since its launch in 2003, allowing a much stronger long term competitor. Post-merger, the UK mobile market will likely end up just as competitive as it is now, with pricing pressure actually more likely to continue into the medium term, and plenty of opportunities and threats for all the main players as the environment re-aligns.

  • Australian MVNOs – ‘Peak MVNO’ is here…
    Australian MVNOs – ‘Peak MVNO’ is here…
    February 26, 2016

    Australian MVNOs – ‘Peak MVNO’ is here…

    MVNOs have seen their market share grow in the last few years. However, we believe that we are now at ‘Peak MVNO’, thanks to rising costs, a declining price differential with MNOs and Vodafone’s return to growth. We forecast MVNO’s share to decline to 6.6% in 2020 from 8.3% currently, even as TPG outperforms by gaining share.
  • February 23, 2016

    Lightning strikes: Virgin Media Q4 2015 results

    Project Lightning is showing clear signs of success, running ahead of new premises targets with ARPU and penetration levels in line with expectations, which helped deliver the strongest organic RGU performance in over seven years, and could add c1% to revenue growth in 2016. Recent performance, though strong, was not immune to the rivalry of Sky and BT, with efforts to manage profitability in the face of inflated sports content rights costs in turn yielding tension at the subscriber level; we anticipate round two when the 2016/17 Premier League kicks off in August. Mobile revenue growth was relatively weak and quad play penetration fell, but the H3G/O2 merger in the UK may provide an option to improve its mobile wholesale deal, and the cable/mobile JV in the Netherlands with Vodafone points to a possible similar deal in the UK in the longer term.
  • February 22, 2016

    EE Q4 2015 results: Slowing revenue, accelerating profits

    EE reported solid contract net adds, but weakening contract ARPU, which drove mobile service revenue growth down to -2.5%. However, EBITDA growth was spectacular at 15% in H2, suggesting that much of the subscriber growth is in low revenue high margin segments such as SIM-only and B2B, as well as cost control being strong. EE’s new parent BT is likely to be able to drive further progress in these areas, and the outlook is robust even if quad play demand remains low in the consumer market.
  • February 16, 2016

    Millennials, mobile and traditional media

    Millennials are the mobile generation, and their preoccupation with mobile erodes time spent with other media, but also offers new opportunities for traditional media brands. Millennials have a different relationship with traditional media; mobile has provided them with control over what they consume and the convenience to access content where and how they like. New content forms such as very short videos have added to the mobile experience, creating social discovery opportunities for media to reach millennials.
  • February 11, 2016

    UK advertising expenditure forecast 2016-2018

    2014 and 2015 have seen outstanding real growth of 13% in display advertising spend. Although we cannot rule out a recessionary downturn, we project further 11% growth during 2016-2018, but at a slowing rate as display spend continues to benefit from relatively benign economic conditions. A sizeable chunk of the display growth reflects a shift from non-display. However, the most dramatic change in the present decade is the total reversal of the balance in display market share between press and the internet: 75% press/25% internet in 2010; 25% press/75% internet in 2018. Nor will the shift be over in 2018. Meanwhile, we expect other display categories – television, out of home, radio and cinema – to see advertising spend grow at close to the market average. As yet, we have seen no signs of television advertising spend suffering due to the decline in viewing among younger age groups and emergence of digital video. If anything, evidence points to the contrary.

  • February 10, 2016

    Vodafone Q3 2015/16 results: Almost stable

    Vodafone Europe’s service revenue growth continued its trend of gradual improvement, helped by solid contract net adds and sustained high data traffic growth, and is now almost stable. Project Spring network metrics performed strongly in the quarter, and there is some evidence of this translating into better operating performance in Italy, which enjoyed positive mobile service revenue growth for the first time since 2010. Problems remain for the company in its other key mobile markets however, all of which remain in decline. Although these issues may prove temporary, and Project Spring may yet offer them a boost, further pressure is on the horizon due to competitor consolidation and associated regulatory remedies.
  • February 9, 2016

    Cyber blues: TalkTalk Group Q3 2015/16 results

    Damage from the cyber-attack was revealed to be a 2% impact to the on-net subscriber growth, a 3% impact to Group revenue growth and a combined EBITDA and exceptionals cost impact of £75-80m, roughly double the previous guidance. An updated FY17 trading strategy promises “more conservative” price increases and greater focus on upselling mobile/fibre/TV to existing customers, while maintaining rather than growing the consumer base. FY17 guidance has been updated to account for cyber-attack related setbacks and trading strategy adjustments, now aiming for modest revenue growth and EBITDA of £320-360m and an implied margin of 17-20%.

  • February 5, 2016

    BT Q3 2015/16 results: Fibre-driven accelerating revenue

    BT Group’s revenue growth accelerated to 4.7% in Q3; while this was helped by some beneficial one-offs, including the TalkTalk cyber-attack, the underlying trends also looked strong across all divisions. Fibre adoption had a record quarter, with growth particularly apparent at BT’s DSL competitors, helping to drive Openreach’s external revenue growth to 7%. BT completed the purchase of EE at the end of January, and BT will keep EE separate for consumer but fully integrate for business. We are sceptical of consumer-side revenue synergies, but the business side and cost synergies will significantly benefit going forward.
  • January 15, 2016

    Will the young of today ever turn to trad TV?

    The steep year-on-year decline in TV viewing among younger age groups has continued in 2015, with reported TV viewing by children 4-15 and adults 16-24 approaching 30% down on the peak of 2010. The downward trends notwithstanding, there are good grounds for believing that some of the new media consumption behaviours will fall away as today’s millennials move-up the lifestage ladder. In addition, half-yearly comparisons reveal a big slow-down in the rate of decline during H2 2015, suggesting that the explosive impact of smartphones, tablets, apps and social networks has almost reached its limits, while further change will occur at a much slower pace.

  • December 17, 2015

    European mobile in Q3 2015 – Consolidation before convergen [...]

    European mobile service revenue growth again improved, albeit marginally, with the quarter’s gain driven by declines easing further in what nevertheless remain the three weakest markets: France, Italy and Spain. Generally stabilising pricing environments were a key factor although ARPUs in these markets remain largely in decline, under continued pressure from strong out-of-bundle revenue declines. In a post-consolidation world, H3G/O2 in the UK and Yoigo in Spain will be the only mobile-only MNOs in the top five European mobile markets, effectively cementing a convergence based future. Consolidation trends might point to the prospect of greater price stabilisation but a fresh land grab for the converged market could derail this. Overall, in spite of healthy underlying data trends, we continue to see medium term growth recovery prospects capped at around 1% given precedent from both the UK, where a healthy economy, healthy pricing environment and strong data trends have failed to exceed this level, and Germany, where post-consolidation revenue growth has reverted to negative territory, both due to competition and consolidation.
  • NBN RSP Outlook –Australia’s next oligopoly
    NBN RSP Outlook –Australia’s next oligopoly
    December 15, 2015

    NBN RSP Outlook –Australia’s next oligopoly

    The NBN was supposed to increase retail competition, but it is driving consolidation of the top 3-4 Retail Service Providers (RSPs). The margins of off-net players (ie M2, the old iiNet) will benefit, but on-net players and/or those over-weight Voice (ie Telstra, TPG) will be negatively impacted. We therefore believe the NBN journey is far from over with the risk that RSPs compete directly with the NBN.

  • December 10, 2015

    UK mobile market Q3 2015: Stuck at 1%

    UK mobile service revenue growth remained at 0.9% in Q3, but on an underlying basis growth increased 0.1ppts to 1.4%. This continues a trend of very gradual improvement in underlying growth over the past year, while reported growth has stayed constant at around 1% due to the re-introduction of regulated MTR cuts on 1 May 2015. Within the market, performances were mixed. O2 remains a service revenue growth star performer thanks to strong sustained contract net adds and stable contract ARPU while Vodafone’s service revenue growth fell back into decline as its contract ARPU suffered due to a sharp fall in out-of-bundle revenue. EE’s contract net adds were strong, but its contract ARPU growth remains weak, partly due to its renewed contract net adds performance being supported by low ARPU data devices and B2B. Since the end of the quarter, on 28 October, the CMA provisionally approved the BT/EE acquisition without conditions, and on 30 October, the EC opened an in-depth investigation into H3G/O2. Both acquirers would be wise in our view to be wary of making any rapid changes to branding and/or channel strategy, given that EE and O2 account for nearly 60% of UK gross subscriber additions between them and disrupting these sales will have a significant impact on subscriber growth, as EE’s experience since dropping Orange and T-Mobile has shown.

  • December 9, 2015

    UKTV – From pay to free?

    UKTV has continued its strong audience performance throughout 2015, and with Dave and Drama the company now has the two largest channels outside the PSBs. Growth has been driven by the effective use of the DTT platform with UKTV positioning its DTT channels to take advantage of the platform’s audience profile and sheer volume of viewing. Assuming UKTV maintains its commissioning spend we expect continued growth on free-to-air, but question marks remain on some of its more niche pay-TV channels.

  • December 8, 2015

    Mobile-first, mobile-foremost Smartphones to be 50% of online con [...]

    Smartphones will deliver half of all time spent online in 2016, and online time on smartphones will grow a further 50% by 2020. They are increasingly replacing the TV’s role as the primary provider of video content. There are stark differences in habits by age: young people’s smartphone use is highly substitutional for other media. Older people, who will account for most of the growth in time online, will add it on top of the time they already spend with other media, particularly TV. The implications of an increasingly mobile-only world are wide-ranging: social discovery and the mobile form factor change what works in content, while in-feed, branded content, payments and subscription are attractive alternatives to display and search advertising on mobile.

  • December 2, 2015

    Millennials: the mobile generation

    Millennials are not the multimedia generation, as is often asserted, but the first entirely digital generation, and this is best reflected in their obsessive use of smartphones. The importance of mobile is not just as a communication device, because the smartphone has become an all-important tool, which this generation relies on for a much wider range of activities than older demographics. The implications for traditional consumer media are that smartphone distribution and discovery are the key strategic issues for the foreseeable future.

  • November 30, 2015

    UK broadband, telephony and pay TV trends Q3 2015

    UK residential communications revenue growth bounced up in Q3 as we had predicted, on the back of continuing solid volume growth and improved ARPU growth driven by a series of price increases impacting in the quarter. The overall revenue growth of 6% was supported by some one-off factors, such as overlapping price increases and the launch of BT Sport Europe, but we believe that growth at this level will be sustained for the next two quarters at least. Looking forward, the impact of TalkTalk’s cyber-attack is uncertain in the detail, but it will clearly slow TalkTalk, benefit some of the others and may temporarily impact market volumes. Another area of competitive uncertainty is the impact of Virgin Media’s network extension as it gathers momentum into 2016, with all of the others likely to lose significant share in Virgin’s expanded areas.

  • November 25, 2015

    Challenges old and new: TalkTalk Group Q2 2015/16 results

    TalkTalk’s results revealed a challenging market environment, with it struggling to maintain its broadband subscriber base given the onslaught from larger and more differentiated competitors. Revenue growth was still a healthy 6%, but this was helped by acquisitions, price adjustments and low margin mobile, with its EBITDA falling despite the drop in broadband customer growth and associated costs. Its cost savings programme and marked price increases are likely to allow it to grow EBITDA this year and next, with the impact of the cyber-attack being significant but short-lived, but its declining retail customer base is a longer term concern.

  • November 13, 2015

    Vodafone Q2 2015/16 results: Growing fixed disguises weakening mo [...]

    Vodafone Europe’s revenue growth trend continued to improve, and the improved operating leverage allowed it to return to EBITDA growth after years of decline. Its mobile business was however more mixed, with improved contract net adds but worsening ARPU and revenue still firmly in decline, with growth from its recently acquired cable businesses partially disguising this. The benefits of its Project Spring investment are not yet clear, and the current wave of in-market mobile consolidation may leave Vodafone a weaker player across much of its footprint.