Liberty Global gained 60,000 digital video subscribers across its group in the third quarter of 2016, taking its total to 16.72 million, of which 14.3 million are in Europe. Total video customer attrition fell to 36,900 for the quarter, while the group gained over 200,000 internet customers. Its largest subsidiary, Virgin Media, is building out its network to gain customers, having hovered around 3.72 million video customers in the United Kingdom since the start of the decade.
Liberty Global is the fifth largest pay-television group in the informitv Multiscreen Index. It has 26 million unique customers across Europe from nearly 50 million homes passed. It claims 22.47 million video customers in the region, although some of those are still on analogue systems. It has 14.25 million ‘enhanced’ video subscribers, or around 66% of its base in Europe.
Virgin Media gained 10,900 video customers in the United Kingdom, although it lost 10,000 in Ireland. The company expects to pass around half a million extra homes in the United Kingdom in 2016 through its Project Lightning build, half of which will be fibre to the premises. Despite this, out of over 13 million homes passed, it still has 3.72 million enhanced video subscribers in the United Kingdom, which is slightly fewer than it had a year previously and about the same number it had at the start of 2010.
Ziggo in the Netherlands declined slightly to 3.29 million enhanced video subscribers, over a million of which now have the next-generation Horizon TV service, with a further 700,000 basic video customers.
Telenet in Belgium added 2,900 enhanced video subscribers but lost 11,300 basic video customers. It how has 1.73 million enhanced and 0.29 million basic video customers.
In Germany, Unitymedia added 20,700 enhanced video subscribers, which is the total number of additions in Western Europe, once other modest gains and losses are taken into account. In all, Unitymedia has 1.56 million enhanced video subscribers in Germany, including over half a million with Horizon TV, and 4.86 million basic video customers.
In Central and Eastern Europe there were total gains of 36,600 enhanced video subscribers, with additions in Poland, Hungary and Romania and small losses in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In its Latin America and Caribbean operations, Liberty Global lost 4,400 enhanced video subscribers, for a total of 1.59 million.
While television subscription numbers remain relatively flat, the main growth is for internet services. Virgin Media added 59,900 internet customers in the United Kingdom, while Unitymedia gained 56,000, increasing the European total by 182,100 to 17.29 million.
Liberty Global has debts of more than $40 billion, with nearly $15 billion of debt in Virgin Media. Despite this, chief executive Mike Fries said: “Our balance sheet remains in great shape with nearly $4.6 billion of total liquidity”.
In October, Liberty Global announced plans to acquire Multimedia Polska, the third largest cable operator in Poland, where Liberty’s UPC Poland is the largest provider, for $760 million.
Speaking to analysts, he said that following announcement of the prospective AT&T acquisition of Time Warner, “a lot of folks in our ecosystem are having what I would describe as an existential moment.” He said there are tectonic shifts occurring. “What does it all mean? Where do I fit in? What’s my next move?”
From his perspective, it validates the Liberty Global strategy that “connectivity is king” — particularly with fixed and mobile convergence.
“Like some of our peers, Comcast for example, we’re upgrading that entertainment experience with a beautiful user interface that rivals any OTT service, with the widest content offering in the market — broadcast, sports, premium, SVOD, TVOD, replay and even OTT apps like Netflix all on one platform.”
Liberty Global is the largest single shareholder in the United Kingdom commercial broadcaster ITV, with a 9.9% stake. There has long been speculation that it could still launch a bid for control of the company.