The time is NOW for Sky as UK/Ireland pay-TV makes modest gains

DetailsEditor | 17 June 2015

It's hard to turn a cautious eye on a relatively steady growing market, but a study of the UK's pay-TV sector by IHS Technology has revealed that market definer Sky's growth is coming from its over-the-top (OTT) offering.

According to the research, UK and Ireland pay-TV subscribers grew by 6.8% year-on-year representing an additional million paying customers over the 12 months to 31 March 2015. This resulted in a total of 16.7 million UK households subscribing to pay-TV via satellite, cable or IPTV, up from 15.6 million in the same period in 2014.

The IHS data found that Sky TV remained by far the leading pay-TV platform in the UK and Ireland with 11.9 million customers at the end of Q1 2015, of which around 10.3 million were in the UK. Sky's net year-on-year gain was over 400,000 subscribers, but intriguingly the analyst discovered that all of its growth now originates from the subscription-free product NOW TV.

The research also showed that the OTT offering racked up 729,000 subscribers at Q1 2015, making it the fastest-growing pay-TV platform. Such figures, says IHS, prove the strong demand for OTT services in the UK while core DTH TV services enter a decline. Indeed without NOW TV, IHS calculates that Sky's satellite subscriber base declined 52,000 in Q1 2015 compared with Q4 2014, the fourth successive quarter of decline in subscriptions to Sky's core pay-TV service.

Yet the analyst took note to stress that Sky's 'careful' pricing of the NOW TV offer has minimised the risk of cannibalism from the tradition customer base, while hit shows such as Game of Thrones and the relatively low cost of the box itself have proven attractive to new consumers.

Though with much smaller bases, Sky's IPTV rivals posted strong annual growth. Showing the fruits of an aggressive push into content, UK ISP Talk Talk claimed 1.4 million subscribers by the end of Q1 2015, an impressive net year-on-year gain of 54%, and arch rival BT reporting 1.1 million TV subs, up 13% year-on-year. The BT total did not include BT Sport, available to about five million homes. Cable company Virgin Media had 3.7 million subs, almost unchanged from Q1 2014.