Liberty Global, the largest international cable company in the world, lost 400,000 video subscribers in Europe in 2015. Half of them were in the Netherlands, where it has now announced a joint venture between its Ziggo operation and Vodafone. In the United Kingdom, Virgin Media lost 33,000 television customers in the course of 2015. Following previous talks between Liberty and Vodafone, there may be further deals to be done.
Overall, Liberty Global has 22.76 million television customers in Europe, of which 14.16 million are enhanced video subscribers of one or more encrypted services.
The cable group lost 140,000 basic video customers in Europe in the last quarter of 2015, although it reported a net gain of 78,000 enhanced video subscribers across its services, with the main gains in Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Belgium.
The group is gradually migrating legacy video customers to new digital platforms. At the end of 2015, the proportion of subscribers on such platforms reached 29%, up from 22% at the end of the previous year.
Nevertheless, Liberty lost 400,000 video subscribers in Europe in 2015, half of them in the Netherlands. Its Ziggo operation there has over 4 million customers, of which 3.32 million receive enhanced video services.
Ziggo lost 51,000 television customers in the last quarter. 35,000 of them were basic video subscribers. The attrition was ascribed to lower sales and higher churn, partly as a result of competition and operation challenges associated with the integration of the Ziggo business, which it acquired in 2014 for around €10.0 billion in stock and cash.
However, Liberty reports that its next generation television platform is well-received by customers. Its Horizon TV subscribers doubled to 706,000 in 2015, while its multiscreen service, Horizon Go reach 720,000.
Liberty announced a 50:50 joint venture with Vodafone in the Netherlands, combining the Ziggo cable network with the Vodafone 4G wireless platform, operating under both brands.
After deducting €7.3 billion of net debt carried by Ziggo, Vodafone will make a cash payment of €1 billion to Liberty Global in addition to contributing Vodafone Netherlands to the joint venture.
Vittorio Colao, the chief executive of Vodafone Group, said: “Together we will be a stronger competitor in the Netherlands, benefiting customers of both companies and the market as a whole. This transaction marks a continuation of Vodafone’s market-by-market convergence strategy and we look forward to partnering with Liberty Global to create a fully integrated provider in one of our core European markets.”
He said this was not necessarily a model for other markets, like the United Kingdom and Germany, in which both Liberty and Vodafone operate.
“We will see whether there will be other developments in other countries, be it with Liberty or with others,” he told analysts.
The two companies have previously discussed asset swaps or even the possibility of a merger.
In the United Kingdom, Virgin Media gained just 900 video subscribers in the last quarter of 2015 and lost 33,000 over the year. Virgin Media now has about the same number of television customers as it did in mid-2010.
More people take internet or telephone services from Virgin Media than television. Virgin Media passes 12.89 million homes with its broadband network in the United Kingdom. Of its 5.16 million customer relationships, 4.69 million take internet, 4.31 million take telephone, and 3.73 million take television.
Virgin Media now also operates under that brand in Ireland, where it has 311,000 enhanced video subscribers, down by 7,000 in the last quarter of 2015 and by 22,000 over the year.
In Germany, Unitymedia serves 7.14 million customers, of which 5.00 million take basic video services, with 1.50 million taking enhanced video, 460,000 of them having the Horizon TV service. While basic video customers were down by 48,000 in the last quarter, enhanced services gained 34,000 subscribers and were up by 138,000 year on year.
In central and eastern Europe, UPC saw losses of 52,000 basic video customers in the last quarter, against quarterly gains of 41,000 enhanced video subscribers and an annual gain of 122,000. Out of 6.02 million video customers, 3.56 million now receive enhanced video services, of which 218,000 have the Horizon TV service.
The joint venture between Liberty and Vodafone in the Netherlands demonstrates the need for alliances to deliver a combination of fixed and mobile communications services. Further mergers or acquisitions could still be on the horizon.