Liberty Global reported that Virgin Media ended 2020 with 3.50 million television subscribers in the United Kingdom, a loss of 27,500 in the last quarter and nearly 190,000 over the year. Its UPC group in Europe ended the year with 2.11 million enhanced video subscribers, which was a quarterly organic gain of 16,000. The announced merger of Virgin Media with 02 is due to complete in mid 2021, subject to approval from the competition regulator.
Virgin Media ended 2020 with 6.06 million fixed-line customers in the United Kingdom, up by 108,000 over the year, with its highest quarterly gain since 2017. Its service footprint rose by 423,000 homes passed, to 16.26 million. Of these, just under 3.50 million took its television service, after nine consecutive quarterly television subscriber losses, falling from a peak of 3.90 million in September 2018.
The Virgin TV 360 product was launched in the fourth quarter of 2020. A software upgrade for existing customers with existing V6 set-top boxes will be made available from the first quarter of 2021.
The Horizon 4 platform, on which Virgin TV 360 is based, now serves 1.17 million boxes, about half of which are in the Netherlands.
The number of Virgin Media internet subscribers rose over the year by almost 150,000 to 5.42 million, with 55,000 added in the last quarter.
Virgin Media can offer gigabit speeds to 46% of its United Kingdom footprint, representing 7.1 million premises. Its Project Lightning network expansion reached 426,000 new premises in 2020, with 115,000 added in Q4, taking its cumulative build to 2.5 million. The company says it is on track for gigabit coverage across its network in the United Kingdom by the end of 2021. Fewer than 200,000 customers across Liberty Global networks currently take the 1G service, although over 90% receive over 100 megabits per second. The average speed across its customer base in the United Kingdom is currently 174 megabits per second.
Annual revenue of £5.13 billion was down slightly by 0.8%, producing net earnings of £39 million, compared with a £337 million net loss in 2019. The company is carrying about £12 billion in debt.
Mike Fries, the chief executive of Liberty Global, described the regulatory review of the proposed merger of Virgin Media with O2 as “right on track”.
With Dana Strong going from Virgin Media to become chief executive of Sky, he said: “I think it does give us a great dialog and great opportunity to continue to talk about each of our strategic futures here.” He added: “it wouldn’t surprise me if we re-engage on a number of topics with Sky who are a very important partner for us in this market.”
Liberty Global has been reorganising its portfolio over recent years, selling up in markets where it did not have scale, establishing opportunities for fixed-mobile convergence, and aiming to become a champion in markets where it does have scale.
The UPC group in Europe completed its acquisition of Sunrise in November 2020. The UPC group ended 2020 with 2.11 million enhanced video and 2.57 million internet subscribers across Switzerland, Poland and Slovakia.
The VodafoneZiggo joint venture in the Netherlands reported a loss of 20,900 enhanced video subscribers, ending 2020 with a total of 3.33 million, a loss of 52,400 over the year.
Telenet in Belgium reported 1.69 million enhanced video customers, down nearly 14,000 over the year.
Liberty Global is still keeping its options open in Ireland, where it has 309,000 Virgin Media television subscribers, a gain of 29,000 over the year.
Mike Fries said they would continue to evaluate the long-term future in markets like Ireland and Poland. He said: “It would be surprising to me if we ended 2021 without continued transformation even in those two markets, whatever that might look like.”