Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday catch-up

This week seems to have gone in a flash, what with the Vodafone/Sky double-header on Wednesday and France Telecom yesterday. Still playing catch-up today, but here are a few things which caught my eye.

Keith has a nice write-up of the Vodafone results, which he refers to accurately as the quarterly game. I can't think of many other companies where the management consistently start the presentation by repeating that they think the KPIs they are about to report are of diminishing relevance in gauging performance. In that case, why not report quarterly results with a full set of financial statements? Surely that's preferable to the current system.

As for Sky and FT, there were a lot of interesting facets to their respective results, but the thing that really struck me most was the sharp contrast between the two broadband deployments. Sky has clearly ramped up the rate at which it is connecting new customers quite dramatically (from c.11k per week in the December quarter, to over 16k per week in January), 87% of its subs are unbundled, and 70% of that group has opted for a product carrying an additional charge (i.e., a higher bandwidth package). Orange UK, on the other hand, added only 34k broadband subs in Q4 (a connection per week rate of less than one quarter that of Sky's), and only 16% of its subscriber base is unbundled. On top of that, the company only added 50k net contract mobile subs, so clearly whatever the appeal of free broadband for contract spend of over GBP30 per month, it is not really having any visible impact. Keep in mind that Sky is concentrating on its existing base for the most part (only 18% of new broadband customers were completely new to Sky), while Orange's addressable market is arguably the entire contract mobile subscriber base of the UK, yet it seems to be making very feeble headway.

One other thing about the Sky presentation which I found impressive was James Murdoch's comments on positioning the brand in terms of social and environmental responsibility. I'm sure a lot of people would have some reservations about accepting this at face value given the source, but leaving Murdochophobia aside and taking a neutral view, it's a brilliant line to take. Committing to this is not only the right thing to do ethically, but it's the right thing for consumers to see you doing. Brands which don't position themselves adequately here may indeed risk creating a gulf between themselves and the consumers they aim to engage. As with so many other things, I think Sky is ahead of the curve here, and many others will follow in its wake.

Now back to my bandwidth obsessions.

The fact that 70% of Sky's unbundled customers take a higher bandwidth product, for which they have to pay an additional charge, seems to underline again that demand is indeed on the rise. I think James Murdoch must have used the word "bandwidth" at least 50 times in the course of the presentation. I wonder if he had seen the news that, only a couple of weeks after the HD DVD bombshell, Blu-Ray has also fallen victim to the tireless efforts of cryptogeeks, the first file weighing in at a healthy 22GB. What a bruiser.

A friend and Prix D'Or mega-uber value reader also drew my attention for the first time to some stats tracked by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which show bandwidth consumption among business and residential internet users. Notice that between March 2005 and June 2006, the number of broadband households nearly doubled, but data consumed nearly trebled. The next update is due on 16 February, and should be interesting.

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