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BSkyB's record results mask some serious issues

Problems with rivals.

New Statesman
Photograph: Getty Images

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.