Sky has taken the opportunity of the acquisition of the businesses in Italy and Germany to simplify the way it reports its subscriber figures. It no longer separately reports the numbers of pay-television subscribers but instead talks of total customers and products, including online services, broadband and telephony. So how many television subscribers does Sky now have across Europe?
Based on previous figures from the informitv Multiscreen Index and the latest available data, we estimate that Sky now has around 19.76 million television subscribers across the United Kingdom and Ireland, Germany and Italy.
Surprisingly, Sky did not mention a consolidated figure for television subscribers in its earnings results, the first since its effective acquisition of Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland.
Instead, Sky reported that it now has 20.61 million retail customers across the group, taking a total of 52.04 million products between them. In the United Kingdom and Ireland it has 11.75 million retail customers, with 4.74 million in Italy and 4.12 million in Germany.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, a Sky product includes television, Sky+HD, multiscreen, Sky Go Extra, broadband, telephony or line rental. In Germany it includes television, a second smartcard, Premium HD, Sky Online or mobile. In Italy it includes television, Multivision, Sky Online or paying for HD services.
By these measures, Sky added 204,000 customers in the United Kingdom and Ireland in the last quarter of 2014. In Italy it gained 30,000 customers and in Germany it added 214,000. So overall, Sky gained 448,000 customers in a quarter.
What is not clear is precisely what mix of customers Sky has across its television, video, broadband and telephony services.
In the previous quarter, Sky reported 10.73 million television subscribers in the United Kingdom and Ireland. That includes those taking its separate NOW TV offering.
In his earnings presentation, Jeremy Darroch, the group chief executive, referred to “a standout result in our TV business where growth more than doubled year on year at 202,000 net adds — that’s our strongest quarterly TV growth since well before we broke through 10 million customers.”
By our analysis that would give Sky 10.93 million television subscribers in the United Kingdom and Ireland. So why not break out the figures for television customers?
Andrew Griffith, the chief financial officer, simply said: “We have aligned the way we calculate and define our KPIs”.
In our extensive experience, most traded companies providing pay-television services disclose their television subscriber figures, even if they also talk up their customer numbers or total revenue generating units.
By aggregating its reported figures, as well as bundling its services, Sky can cover the performance of its traditional pay-television services with a good news story about growing customer numbers, based on separate products.
However, Sky Deutschland still reports its own results, as a small minority of its shares are still traded separately. It reported a rise of 214,000 direct television subscribers, to a total of 4.12 million. It also continued to provide further detail. Premium HD customers increased by 407,000 to 2.43 million. Customers with Sky+ increased by 514,000 to 1.99 million. 479,000 customers have a second card Sky subscription, which is 50,000 more than in the previous quarter.
Sky no longer provides such a breakdown of subscribers by product for the United Kingdom. Most of its customers take a television subscription. We estimate the proportion is still around 93%. Yet there is still a significant difference between 10.93 million television customers and 11.75 million retail customers.
One might argue that any customer is a customer and that is what counts. Indeed, we have argued that service providers should consider customers rather than homes.
The industry continues to report average revenue per user, although the user is typically the household bill payer.
For Sky, the average revenue per user in the United Kingdom and Ireland has risen slightly, from £46 a month to £47 per month. Of course, those with multiple services may pay significantly more than this blended average. Those taking only an online video service may pay considerably less. In Italy and Germany the average is much lower, with an ARPU of €43 and €35 respectively.
None of the regular Sky analysts questioned the change in presentation and lack of detail in subscriber metrics. They typically focus on the financials. So the good news is that revenue is up 5% and operating profit is up 16%.
Media coverage, even from trade journalists, generally reported the customer figures as Sky chose to present them, in many cases with headlines about record results.
However, the number of people paying for television should still be a key metric for Sky, or any pay-television business. Investors might wonder why it does not report that number more transparently.
Sky has said that subject to consulting with its major institutional shareholders, it intends to simplify its reporting in the first and third quarters, limited to these operating metrics and a commentary on performance.
Its shareholders deserve more detail to enable them to make their own judgements and comparisons with other service providers.
The informitv Multiscreen Index measures the performance of 100 satellite, cable and telco television and video services by their current digital subscription numbers. It includes includes top 10 tables ranked worldwide, by region, mode of delivery and quarterly net subscriber gains or losses.