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Comcast Invades Europe With Sky Satellite Takeover; Analysts Predict Big Rate Hikes are Coming

Comcast kicks the door open to the European television market.

Europe is about to get a taste of Comcast, the cable company most Americans abhor, after the Philadelphia-based cable giant won control of Sky, Europe’s largest satellite TV provider.

Comcast, criticized in some circles for overbidding, easily eclipsed 21st Century Fox’s bid to win control of the television provider that is a household name in the United Kingdom.

Sky customers are being groomed to think highly of the deal by Comcast’s PR department, promised a healthy increase in original programming, expansion into more European markets beyond the UK and Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, and a richer selection of American and European programming owned or controlled by Comcast, which also owns NBCUniversal.

Analysts expect European customers will soon get the bitter taste of what their American counterparts have endured for decades — frequent and steep rate hikes widely expected from Sky’s new owner.

Comzilla

Comcast sees the American television market as saturated, but Europe is wide open for more television services. Comcast believes Sky is not meeting its value potential, giving the company plenty of room for hike rates as new programming and channels are introduced, especially on the European continent. British viewers already benefit from the consolidation of English language global media brands, bringing most American network fare to British and Irish audiences. But there is plenty of room to grow in Italy and Germany, where state public broadcasters are hardly meeting their audience potential and pay television networks are still lacking.

Sky currently has 27 million subscribers across Europe. Just 5.2 million of those subscribers are in Germany, a country with nearly 83 million people. Most are attracted to Sky’s ad-free movie service and sports networks. Sky has traditionally lacked the deep pockets necessary to compete effectively with global streaming providers like Netflix, which have scooped up a considerable amount of foreign language content.

These days, Sky is typically a co-partner in original programming ventures, but it rarely comes away with key ownership rights. Comcast’s ownership of NBCUniversal is expected to dramatically change that, with NBC and Universal Studios capable of aggressively entering the original programming business on behalf of Sky, keeping rights in-house.

European regulators will be watching how the Comcast-owned venture develops. Many countries already have concerns about the American “invasion” of entertainment programming, often a mainstay on the lineups of European networks. Comcast’s involvement will only escalate the amount of American content seen on European televisions, either in its original English, subtitled, or dubbed.

Currently, UK customers subscribing to the full Sky HD package, including the Sky Q set-top box, pay up to $119 a month. In Germany, the smaller “full package” costs $82 a month after promotional pricing expires. Comcast is likely to raise prices significantly over the next few years, possibly reaching $150 a month in the UK and $100 in Germany. In contrast, Netflix is building a giant market share in Europe keeping pricing low. A 4-screen subscription to Netflix currently costs $13 a month in the UK, with Netflix’s new Ultra subscription priced at $19.96 in Germany.

Despite potential price increases, few believe Sky will lose many subscribers, at least as long as it continues to hold the rights to must-have sports programming, notably the English Premier League soccer matches in the UK and Bundesliga matches in Germany, which Sky Deutschland shares with public broadcaster ZDF and Eurosport.

 

Comcast Makes Surprise $31 Billion Bid for UK’s Sky Satellite Service

Comcast Corporation today made a surprise $31 billion bid to acquire Sky, the British-based satellite TV, internet, and wireless provider, disrupting a rival bid from 21st Century Fox, which spent years trying to acquire the 61% of Sky it doesn’t already own.

Comcast’s bid of £12.50 a share to acquire Sky outright is significantly higher than the £10.75/share offer Fox made to take total control of the satellite venture. A third player – Disney, has been in talks with Fox to acquire a substantial number of its assets, including its minority ownership stake in Sky, for $52 billion. But Comcast’s bid may change everything.

That three American companies are now competing to acquire Europe’s largest media company and biggest pay-TV broadcaster, with more than 23 million subscribers, could create concern among some regulators about foreign ownership of the media. A bid from Comcast is likely to be less controversial than dealing with Rupert Murdoch, however, who already has extensive media holdings in the United Kingdom.

There are three distinct possible bidders for Sky now:

  • Comcast, which prefers to take 100% ownership but will accept a majority stake shared with Fox (or possibly Disney).
  • Disney wants minority stake in Sky through its $52+ billion acquisition of some of Fox’s assets, including Fox’s part-ownership in Sky.
  • Fox, which has sought to take full control of Sky for several years but has met with resistance was originally the most likely buyer. But more recently, Rupert Murdoch has recently shown a willingness to sell some of Fox’s assets, including Sky, if the price is right.

Sky’s share price leaped more than 20% today to £13.47—well above the Comcast offer—as investors believe there will be a bidding war over Sky. Because many hedge funds and investors expect Fox will increase its bid to match Comcast, in turn boosting the value of Sky’s stock, investors are accumulating shares at a rapid pace and driving up share prices further.

Sky has become increasingly valuable because it isn’t just a satellite TV provider. Sky also develops its own original productions, has valuable sports rights deals, and sells broadband and mobile phone service. American media companies are consolidating, preferring to own both the pipes that deliver internet content and the content itself. Acquiring Sky would allow Fox, Disney, and/or Comcast to showcase its own productions in Europe and to a lesser extent import Sky products into the United States.

Regulators in the United Kingdom are likely to press any buyer to protect the independence of Sky News, a well-regarded 24-hour news channel. Many expect regulators to insist that Sky’s buyer  agree to fund Sky for at least 10 years and guarantee its editorial independence.

Britain Adopting American Broadband Business Model: Less Competition, More Rate Hikes

british poundA decision by Great Britain’s broadband industry to follow America’s lead consolidating the number of competitors to “improve efficiency” and wring “cost savings” out of the business resulted in few service improvements and a much bigger bill for consumers.

A Guardian Money investigation examining British broadband pricing over the past four years found customers paying 25-30 percent more for essentially the same service they received before, with loyal customers facing the steepest rate increases.

It’s a dramatic fall for a market long recognized as one of the most competitive in the world. In 2006, TalkTalk — a major British ISP — even gave away broadband service for free in a promotion to consumers willing to cover BT’s telephone line rental charges.

But pressure from shareholders and investment bankers to deliver American-sized profits have spurred a wave of consolidation among providers in the United Kingdom, similar to the mergers of cable companies in the United States. Well known ISPs like Blueyonder, Tiscali, AOL, BE, Tesco, O2, and others in the United Kingdom have all been swallowed up by bigger rivals – often TalkTalk. As of last year, just four major competitors remain – BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin, which together hold 88% of the market. If regulators allow BT’s takeover of EE, that percentage will rise to 92%.

talktalk-logo-370x229As consumers find fewer and fewer options for broadband, they are also discovering a larger bill, fueled by runaway rate increases well in excess of inflation. While consolidated markets in the United States and Great Britain increasingly lack enough competition to temper rate increases, heavy competition on the European continent has resulted in flat or even lower prices for broadband along with significant service upgrades. British consumers now pay up to 50% more for broadband than many of their European counterparts in Germany, France, the Benelux countries, and beyond.

Also familiar to Americans, the best prices for service only go to new customers. Existing, loyal customers pay the highest prices, while those flipping between providers (or threatening to do so) get much lower “retention” or “new customer” pricing. But only those willing to fight for a better deal get one.

In October, TalkTalk, responsible for much of the consolidation wave, raised broadband prices yet again — the second major price hike this year. Customers are reeling over the rate increases, despite the fact they still seem inexpensive by American standards. Landline rental charges are increasing from $25.40 to $26.91 a month, and are a necessary prerequisite to buying Internet access from TalkTalk. Its Simply Broadband entry-level package is jumping another £2.50 a month just four months after the last rate hike. That means instead of paying an extra $7.60 a month for broadband, customers will now pay $11.40. The average British consumer now pays an average of $57.79 a month for a phone line with enhanced DSL broadband service.

btIn France, competition is forcing providers to move towards fiber optic broadband and scrap DSL service. But French consumers are not paying a premium for upgrades necessitated by competition on the ground. While British households pay close to $60 a month, a comparable package in France from Orange known as L’essentiel d’internet à la maison costs only $36.50 a month, including a TV package and unlimited calling to other landlines. But the deal gets even better if you shop around. Free, a major French competitor, offers a near-identical package for just $32.19 a month. In the United States, packages of this type can cost $130 or more if you do not receive a promotion, $99 a month if you do.

In France, providers rarely claim they need to cap Internet usage or raise prices to cover the cost of investing in their networks. That is considered the cost of doing business in a fiercely competitive marketplace, and it forces French providers to deliver good value and service for money. Providers like Patrick Drahi/Altice’s SFR-Numericable attempted to reap more profits out of its cable business by cutting costs, discontinuing most promotions and marketing, and offshoring customer support to North African call centers. At least one million customers left for better service elsewhere in 2015.

logo_freeIn Britain, there are fewer options for customers to seek a better deal, and the remaining providers know it. As a result, marketplace conditions and an increasing lack of competition have made conditions right for rate increases. BT, Sky, Virgin, and Plusnet (controlled by BT) have all taken advantage and hiked prices once again this year between 6-10%, on top of other large rises.

Ewan Taylor-Gibson, broadband expert at uSwitch.com, told the Guardian, “it’s the existing customers that have borne the brunt of the increase in landline and package costs over recent years.”

Many British consumers are afraid of disrupting their Internet access going through the process of changing providers in a search for a better deal. Some report it can take a few days to a week to process a provider change that should take minutes (because most providers rely entirely on BT’s DSL network over which they offer service). Those willing to make a change are about the only ones still getting a good deal from British providers. Customers are starting to learn that when their new customer promotion ends, asking for an extension or signing up with another company is the only way to prevent a massive bill spike that Taylor-Gibson estimates now averages 89%.

BT spent $1.36 billion dollars securing an agreement with Champions League football.

BT spent $1.36 billion dollars securing an agreement with Champions League football.

Providers with the largest increases use the same excuses as their American counterparts to defend them. BT claims a reduction in income from providing landline service is forcing it to raise prices to make up the shortfall. Critics suggest those increases are also helping BT recoup the $1.36 billion it controversially paid for the rights to carry Champions League football — money it could have invested in network upgrades instead.

The current government seems predisposed to permit the marketplace to resolve pricing on its own, either through competition among the remaining players or allowing skyrocketing prices to reach a level deemed attractive by potential new entrants into the market. The usually protective British regulator Ofcom also seems content taking a light hand to British ISPs, enforcing price disclosures as a solution to increasingly costly Internet service and making it easier for consumers to bounce between the remaining providers many think are overcharging for service.

Things could be worse. British consumers could face the marketplace duopoly or monopoly most customers in the United States and Canada live with, along with even higher prices charged for service. The Guardian surveyed telecom services across several European countries and found that, like in the UK, most customers are required to bundle a landline rental charge and broadband package together to get Internet access, but they are still paying less overall than North Americans do.

Here is what other countries pay for service:

United Kingdom: Basic BT home phone service with unlimited “up to 17Mbps” DSL broadband costs $31.12 per month, plus a monthly landline charge of $27.35 including free weekend calls. An unlimited calling plan with no dialing charges costs an extra $12 a month. Competitor TalkTalk charges $11.40 for unlimited broadband on its entry-level Simply Broadband offer, plus $26.91 for the monthly landline rental charge.

France: Many Orange customers sign up for the popular L’essentiel d’internet à la maison plan, which bundles broadband, a phone line with unlimited calling to other landlines, and a TV package available in many areas for $36.50 a month. Competitor Free.fr charges $32.19 for essentially the same package.

Germany: Deutsche Telekom offers its cheapest home phone/broadband package for $37.75 after a less expensive promotional offer expires. One of its largest competitors, 1&1, offers the same package for $33.29 a month after the teaser rate has ended.

Spain: Telefónica, Spain’s largest phone company, offers service under its Movistar brand combining an unlimited calling landline and up to 30Mbps Internet access for $46.21 a month. Its rival Tele2 offers a comparable package for a dramatically lower price: $29.11 a month.

Ireland: National telecom company Eircomis is overseeing Ireland’s telecom makeover, replacing a lot of copper phone lines with fiber optics. Basic broadband starts with 100Mbps service on the fiber network with a promotional rate of $26.82 for the first four months. After that, things get expensive under European standards. That 100Mbps service carries a regular price of $66.51 a month, deemed “hefty” by the Guardian, although cheaper that what North Americans pay cable companies for 100Mbps download speeds after their promotion ends. For that price, Irish customers also get unlimited calling to other Irish landlines and mobiles. If that is too much, rival Sky offers a basic phone and broadband deal for $32.18 with a one-year contract.

Virgin Media Doubling Broadband Speeds for Free While Competitor Sky Unveils 100Gbps Internet for UK

Phillip Dampier January 11, 2012 Broadband Speed, Competition, Data Caps, Net Neutrality, Online Video, Sky (UK), Virgin Media (UK) Comments Off on Virgin Media Doubling Broadband Speeds for Free While Competitor Sky Unveils 100Gbps Internet for UK

Virgin Media is doubling customer broadband speeds... for free.

Great Britain is leapfrogging ahead in the global broadband speed race with two announcements this morning that represent major advances in British broadband.

First, Virgin Media is announcing it will double the broadband speeds for four million of its customers starting next month, for free.

The company says it will be the first residential provider in the United Kingdom offering 120Mbps broadband — a 20Mbps speed increase for their existing 100Mbps clients.  Customers on Virgin’s 10, 30, and 50Mbps tiers will soon receive free upgrades to 20, 60, and 100Mbps, respectively.  Those on the company’s popular 20Mbps plan will have their speeds tripled to 60Mbps.

That’s a major advancement for British broadband, where dominant BT-provided DSL runs at speeds averaging just over 6Mbps.

The new speeds were made possible by “modest investments” in Virgin’s fiber network, according to Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett.

Berkett said the new speeds would help meet growing demand for faster access to support the proliferation of new digital devices.  Because Virgin invested primarily in fiber and cable broadband, speed upgrades on their existing infrastructure come “at a fraction of the cost of other network operators.”

That understanding was not lost on Sky Broadband, a growing competitor in the United Kingdom.  Sky this morning announced it has launched a newly-upgraded 100Gbps optical network to support its 3 million broadband customers.  The company is spending several hundred million British pounds on updating its network to position itself to become Britain’s largest Internet Service Provider.

Sky’s new network is based on the latest Alcatel-Lucent fiber technology, capable of supporting 100Gbps speeds on each of the individual 88 wavelengths on a single optical fiber.  Sky deployed the new dense wavelength division multiplexing technology on its existing optical fiber backbone network, demonstrating the infinite upgrade possibilities fiber optic technology offers.

Sky pitches its network capacity to consumers as a key benefit of its service, noting it is free of “traffic management” policies that reduce speeds for customers of other Internet providers.

The upgrade arrives just in time to handle the expected explosion of online traffic with this week’s introduction of Netflix streaming across Great Britain.

Sky Dumps Usage Limits for Most UK Customers, Gives Away Free, Limited Broadband Service to Others

More evidence arrived this week that Internet Overcharging schemes are becoming a thing of the past for many global broadband users.

Sky has announced it is getting rid of its usage limits and speed throttles for most of its broadband customers.  It’s also giving away a free speed upgrade to up to 20Mbps for its DSL-provisioned broadband service.

“It comes with no usage caps, fair use policies or traffic management, making it ideal for those who want the freedom to download emails, photos, TV programs, movies and games. It’s also ideal for those who want to access live and on-demand TV through Sky Player,” Sky said.

That may be part of the plan.  Sky, a satellite television company serving the United Kingdom, is preparing to launch new video on demand features that will work in conjunction with its broadband service.  Delivering faster access, without limits, could be part of the equation of making their video on demand service a success.

For occasional broadband users who don’t exceed 2 gigabytes of use per month, Sky is giving free usage-limited broadband service to customers who also subscribe to Sky’s telephone service.  For those that don’t, the 2 gigabyte-capped service costs £5 ($7.59US) per month.

For those looking for unlimited service, Sky Unlimited is available for £7.50/$11.38 per month for Sky customers with Sky Talk or £12.50/$18.97 per month for those without.  In the United Kingdom, line charges for the phone line are broken out from broadband pricing and have to be considered towards the total monthly cost for broadband service.  Line rental from BT costs £12.50/$18.97 a month for customers who pay by direct debit and receive paper billing (£11.25/$17.08 with paperless billing).

Sky requires a 12 month service commitment.  These prices and plans take effect June 1st.  New customers can get a promotion offering six months of free broadband service, including line rental, when signing a 12-month service commitment.

New customers can get six months of broadband service for free when signing up

Is there a downside to this offer?  Not as far as usage limits are concerned.  However, the service is dependent on BT-provisioned DSL phone lines, which can create great variability in the maximum actual speeds customers receive.  The further away from a BT exchange office, the slower the maximum speed a customer will achieve.

But for existing Sky satellite customers looking for a discount on bundled service and an end to worries about monthly usage or speed throttles, Sky Broadband is a welcome relief for those tired of Internet Overcharging schemes.

It’s also one fewer example North American providers can point to as an excuse to attempt Internet Overcharging schemes of their own.

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  • Andy: They hiked the legacy ELP internet from 19.99 to 24.99 in november 2018. It used to be 14.99. The only reason these Charter spectrum effin ass holes a...
  • Frank D: Second Spectrum $20 price hike within a year. Signed up as $99/mo with time warner cable triple bundle. That became $130/mo after promo ended. Earli...
  • Dylan: Look at their prices. Absolutely ludicrous compared to many companies, especially Charter Spectrum. I pay $60 a month for 100/10 with unlimited data. ...
  • Paul Houle: For a long time communities have been frustrated in that they don't have any power to negotiate with cable companies. This town refused to enter into...
  • Ian S Littman: To be fair, you aren't wrong. Spectrum likely knows it won't have any competition for years in Lamar, so they'll quickly get take rates of >70% (re...
  • Ian S Littman: Are you in an area that can even get Spectrum service? Because in areas where they actually have to compete, they're actually pretty decent now. Yes,...
  • Ian S Littman: A more odd entry in that list is Chattanooga. The entire area has FTTH via EPB. Yet apparently folks can't swing the $57/mo starting price for 100 Mbp...
  • Ian S Littman: The issue here is that the NY PSC's threats have no teeth because, well, who will take over the cable systems if Spectrum is forced to sell? Either Al...
  • Bill Callahan: Phil, National Digital Inclusion Alliance just published interactive Census tract maps for the entire US based on the same ACS data. Two datapoints a...
  • Carl Moore: The idiots that run the cable companies must be also using drugs...a lot of people are cutting their cable services because of the higher rate and inc...
  • EJ: This will require a New Deal approach. Municipals need the ability to either be granted money or loaned money for broadband expansion. Until this is d...
  • Bob: I also got $1 increase for my 100/10 internet from Spectrum. A rep said it's for the speed increase that's coming in 2019. I complained that I was pro...

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