BSkyB: HDTV growth accelerating

“Our strategy continues in what is a tough economic climate. But we have a strong set of products.” So spoke Jeremy Darroch, BSkyB’s CEO (pictured with James Murdoch), announcing what must be seen as a spectacular set of results considering the UK’s confirmed recession, and ahead of market expectations.

Last week Sky’s share price had fallen to a 10-year low with anxieties that the UK recession would impact Sky’s overall business. Today’s (Monday) share price could well further rebound helped by seemingly firm news that Sky is looking to absorb Tiscali’s UK broadband service (including the IPTV-based TV service that was once known as Home Choice). An “indicative bid” of £450m has been laid, according to the London Times. If its bid is successful it would propel Sky into third place in the UK as far as broadband connections were concerned (and only just behind of Virgin Media’s 3.8m subs base).

Meanwhile, BSkyB somehow or other manages to confound the sceptics and – at least as far as its October 31st results were concerned – drive out the ghosts and demons who threaten and question Sky’s strategy. All the Quarter’s magic numbers were positive:
• Subs, by 5% (87,000) to 9.067m
• ARPU, up £19 y-o-y to £430 pa
• Sky+, up 421,000 to 4m
• Sky+HD, up 93,000 to 591,000
• Multiroom, up 51,000 to 1.65m
• Broadband, up 164,000 to 1.79m
• Sky Talk, up 120,000 to 1.36m

Financially, the movement was also well into positive territory with operating profit up 21% at £179m. However, expenditure on programming was also down which helped profits a tad. Darroch blamed this on the Hollywood writers strike impacting some series that had slipped in their availability dates.

The pay-TV market in the UK is “still not even 50% penetrated,'' Jeremy Darroch said, leaving “good headroom” for growth [and] “More people are joining us and staying with us for longer.”

Darroch told analysts that BSkyB was not involved in an auction for its Spanish pay-TV counterpart, Digital Plus. He also explained that discussions regarding the reinstating of Sky’s channels were on-going at cable operator Virgin Media, and he was hopeful that an agreement could be achieved.

Without doubt, Sky’s HD product is now making good progress. This past month of October has seen Sky giving a special promotional push to high-def, with lower box fees (£75) and a boost to the number of HD channels on offer. The 93,000 extra subs (since June 30) takes the total to 591,000 and the beginnings of a mass market. Two new high-definition channels will be added next week. These are the Biography Channel HD and Crime and Investigation HD. BSkyB is starting to see “an acceleration of high- definition growth,” Darroch said.

Screen Digest, in a comment on the 10m target anxieties, and customer cancellations, said: “As TV subscription is a 'staying-in' entertainment activity, cutbacks on pay-TV subscription are less at risk than other discretionary spending.

Screen Digest is forecasting that this current pre-Christmas quarter could generate an extra 100,000 high-def subs for Sky, and help push HD subs towards a predicted 3m by 2012.