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A week of doom and gloom leaves little room for optimism – is it any surprise?

Well that was depressing.

Once every few months, the stars align and we here at Digital TV Europe turn away from our typical stories of announcements and appointments to dive into the facts and figures from financial reports. Netflix last week provided a moment of respite as it beat expectations to only lose 970,000 subscribers to the relative delight of investors, but the same can’t be said for many of the companies whose results were released this week.

Mere hours ago, Comcast revealed record churn at Sky in Europe, a subscriber dip at US streamer Peacock and – perhaps most worryingly for the operator – it failed to add broadband subscribers for the first time ever.

Even companies like Roku, who on paper still managed to achieve growth, didn’t grow enough for their investors’ appetites so saw their stock price tumble. Alphabet-owned YouTube also rang alarm bells with its slowest revenue growth in two years

Both companies saw advertisers pull back their business due to the increasingly likely recession (though it’s debatable whether we here in the UK ever really made it out of the last one), while admitting that it was impossible to maintain the levels of growth they managed to achieve during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Closer to home in Europe, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. TF1 – whose merger with M6 appears to be on the brink of collapse – posted ‘solid’ numbers, while Virgin Media O2 added a staggering 16,000 new broadband customers in the UK (the operator declined to reveal its presumably poor TV numbers).

On the other hand, Vodafone lost around half a million TV subscribers in Germany, Telenet’s growth was in the triple-digits and Orange’s TV base declined for the second quarter in a row.

If it wasn’t made obvious from turning on the news, reading a paper or a cursory look across social media, consumers across Europe are at a breaking point. As is their nature, companies are driven by profits above all else and continue to increase prices under the guise of improved value. But there is only so much that consumers can take at a time when governments are failing to protect people from predatory energy companies and unchecked landlordism is crippling a generation of workers.

The perfect encapsulation of the crossroads at which we find ourselves is BT. The former state-owned operator saw a narrow return to revenue growth this week as its core earnings increased by 2% to £1.9 billion, with overall revenues of £5.1 billion. 

Philip Jansen’s salary increased by 32% in 2022 while frontline workers have been offered a 3-8% wage hike

CEO Phillip Jansen patted himself on the back by declaring that the company has had “a good start to the year,” but I would argue it’s hard to make that claim when your workers are, at time of writing, on strike for the first time in 35 years.

The CEO – whose 2022 pay package increased to £3.5 million – admits that the company’s growth came as a result of passing increased costs onto already beleaguered consumers, while shareholders were paid £700 million last year. 

Frontline employees meanwhile have been offered a flat pay rise of £1,500 – which translates to 3-8%, depending on their initial salary and is simply nowhere enough to keep up with the rampant inflation rise and cost of living increases. BT refused to come to the table after 96% of 21,000 BT Openreach engineers and 91.5% of call centre staff voted to strike over the “incredibly low” pay increase offer, but at least I’m sure that Phillip Jansen is comfortable with his 32% year-over-year salary increase.

At the same time dominating mainstream news, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) is striking across the UK following a similarly poor offer and refusal of higher ups to come to the table. Their figureheads have batted away accusations that they will create a ‘wage price spiral’ with the simple explanation that railway operators continue to make record profits which do not make their way to the workers.

In our world of telecommunications and television we will report on a ‘crisis’ if a company makes a few million dollars in profit under what Wall Street was expecting – but they’re still profiting at a time when the general population is being told to tighten their belts. There has been a catastrophic wealth disparity for decades, but executives and investors are only now taking notice because it’s impacting their bottom line. 

They will ask what they can do to protect profits. How many staff can they lay-off? What unprofitable businesses can they sell? How many fines can they stomach to ensure continued growth? What lawsuits can they launch to fight the taxman? How high can they raise subscription costs?

The obsession with growth at any cost is unsustainable; and the coming years of further economic crunch will only continue to prove that the consumer well the industry has relied upon is drying up.

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