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Liberty Global hit by UK subscriber decline

Liberty Global’s fourth quarter results were hit by accelerating TV losses and an overall decline in customer numbers, with the UK, Ireland, Belgium and Switzerland all contributing to the decline.

Virgin Media lost 110,900 revenue-generating units in the UK and Ireland and its customer base declined by 9,400, compared with a customer gain of 9,000 for the same period last year. RGUs for the same period last year increased by 23,500.

In Switzerland, UPC lost 22,700 customers, an improvement on the prior year, while its RGU base declined by 34,300. Telenet in Belgium lost 6,900 customers and 18,600 RGUs, which again represented improvements on the prior year.

Liberty Global attributed the UK subscriber decline to deep discounting by competitors. The company did increase its revenue in theUK tanks to increased cable ARPU.

CEO Mike Fries said that “the medium-term outlook in the UK remains attractive, especially as we evaluate strategic options for value creation”, suggesting possible structural changes ahead for Virgin Media. He admitted that the company faced “some unavoidable headwinds” in the UK market in the year ahead, however.

Regarding Switzerland, where Liberty’s bid to sell its operations to Sunrise came unstuck last year, Fries said that “we continue to believe the Swiss market remains ripe for fixed-mobile convergence over the medium term” and said Liberty would “consider other strategic options in due course”.

Liberty performed better in the central and eastern European markets that it retains after the sale of assets to Vodafone, with customer numbers and RGUs in these territories increasing by 13,500 and 35,500 respectively.

Overall video losses accelerated in the quarter to 91,300, worse than the 74,900 recorded in the same period in the prior year. Broadband additions were in positive territory, but down on the prior year figure, while fixed voice customers declined by 52,700, compared with 17,600 gains in 2018.

Liberty Global did make gains in mobile, with 88,000 net additions in the quarter.

The company’s revenues for Q4 dropped by 0.5% to US$2.982 billion (€2.7 billion), but operating income was up by 12% to US$282.5 million.