BSkyB's record results mask some serious issues

Problems with rivals.

At first glance, BSkyB’s annual results merit a tick in every important box. Its key metrics all moved upwards: cross-sell rate, total customer numbers, revenue and profit all showed strong growth.

In particular, BSkyB is focused on boosting its average annual revenue per customer: that metric rose by over 5 percent or £29 to £577 compared with last year. It is a sobering stat. The average Sky customer is now paying £48 per month. It is all a far cry from the early days of satellite television.

The writer is old enough and sufficiently nostalgic to recall signing up to the short-lived Sky rival, British Satellite Broadcasting at the princely rate of £10 per month. Circa 1990 – give or take. It also came complete with a relatively natty squarial dish.

Release of Sky’s results also serves as an annual reminder – at least for some of us – of just what good value the BBC offers at a fraction of the cost:  a snip at £145 per year. Back at Sky, revenues rose 7 percent year-on-year to £7.2bn; pre-tax profits rose by almost 6 per cent to £1.26bn.Customer numbers inched up a tad (by around only 34,000) to 10.4m, perhaps suggesting that the market may be nearing saturation. Sky’s response is to ramp up its efforts to grow its Now TV offering, launched as a direct rival to Netflix and Amazon’s LoveFilm.

Sky said that more than 50,000 customers have used its £9.99 per day sports ‘day pass’ on Now TV, aimed at non-Sky subscribers. Sky is also launching a Now TV set-top box for £9.99, targeted at non-Sky subscribers, enabling them to connect their TV to the internet.

Future targets for Sky include boosting its numbers of customers – currently around 35 percent - who opt to take the full bundled service of television, telephone and broadband. Officially, Sky is relaxed about the growing threat posed by rival BT.

If you believe that, you will believe anything.

A marketing war of sorts has blown up between BT and Sky. BT has spent a reported £1bn to buy sports rights for its TV service and is offering them for free to its broadband customers from August. BSkyB in turn is to offer free broadband to subscribers to its sports channels. If you believe BT and Sky’s PR teams, this means that customers are the winners.

If there is a winner out there it is the English Premier League and other sports rights holders. The cost to broadcasters of valuable sports rights continues to soar. In the markets, BT is outscoring Sky, with Sky shares down this morning by 3.5 percent to 820p; they are down almost 10 percent from a year-high of 905p.

By contrast, BT shares rose by 0.5 percent this morning to 336p and have soared by 44 percent since the turn of the year.

Two last points on Sky’s future plans. It said that it will add more channels - including 20 new channels to its catchup TV service. Just what we all need. Yet more channels. On a positive note, at a recent Digital Banking Club debate I chaired, the star-turn was a presentation from Steph Coleman, director of customer journeys for BSkyB. Coleman is on a mission, backed up with serious investment, to make Sky’s customer service experience the best in the country. Her presentation was mighty impressive; I would back her to get results.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.