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Liberty Global adds quarter of a million next-gen TV subscribers

Liberty Global CEO, Mike Fries

Liberty Global CEO, Mike Fries

Liberty Global added 253,000 next-generation TV subscribers in Q1, and said the UK and Germany contributed to its best first quarter video performance in the last 10 years.

This was in spite of an 18% year-on-year decline in European operating income at US$431 million, with “challenging” mobile results in the UK and Belgium and “softer than planned” cable ARPU from Virgin Media impacting on revenues in the region.

Liberty said that its next-generation TV subscriber base reached 6.9 million in the first quarter, representing 39% of its total video base in Europe – excluding DTH. This was split across its Horizon TV, Horizon-Lite, TiVo, Eos (v6) and Yelo TV platforms.

In the UK, Liberty said that take-up of its new 4K-enabled Virgin TV V6 set-top box was “robust” in Q1 and that customer satisfaction for it had been “significantly higher than our prior device”.

“This new box is expected to be rolled out across additional markets later this year,” said Liberty in its Q1 earnings announcement.

In Europe, overall organic revenue-generating unit (RGU) growth was up 40% year-over-year with 244,000 net additions in Q1. Its video attrition “improved materially” to a loss of 15,000 RGUs, compared to a loss of 97,700 video customers a year earlier.

Liberty said that its UK video performance was of “particular note” with 46,000 RGU additions, a 53,000 year-on-year improvement, which was supported by its network extension program and new 4K set-top box.

Germany’s video result improved by 34,000 RGUs year-on-year with support from a strong multiple dwelling unit video business.

Discussing Virgin Media’s Project Lightning build-out, the company said it delivered 102,000 new premises in Q1 and a total of around 700,000 homes to date.

However, Liberty CEO Mike Fries added: “We expect that the management transition and related review is likely to result in a slower build pace than what we previously expected for 2017. We will provide an update after our second quarter.”

In March, Liberty suspended four Virgin Media employees after it admitted in an SEC filing that it had previously over-counted the number of new homes connected to its UK network by 151,000 homes as a result of the status of a number of homes being built out under the project being “misrepresented”.

Overall for the three months ended March 31, Liberty said that in Europe it made a net loss of US$293 million, compared to a loss of US$334 million for the same period a year earlier.

“Our first quarter results in Europe showed an acceleration in volume growth, as the mix of market-leading broadband speeds, next-generation TV functionality and new build activity underpinned this performance,” said Fries.

“We added 244,000 RGUs during Q1, a 40% increase compared to the prior-year period, while successfully implementing price increases across several European markets. This improvement in subscriber additions was led by our operations in the UK and Germany, both of which contributed to our best first quarter video performance in the last ten years.”