BT claims another broadband victory
BT claimed another victory in the battle for broadband as its new sports channels helped spur a further surge in take-up and drove the best growth in consumer revenues for a decade.
The group said it added 150,000 broadband customers in the quarter, with many lured in by a package including 38 top-flight football matches a season on its TV service, which has notched up more than 2.5 million customers since last August.
Although the pace of growth slowed on the 156,000 seen the previous three months, it was still 23% higher than a year earlier and beat the 110,000 broadband customers reported by rival BSkyB yesterday.
BT said the performance helped consumer revenues rise by 6% - the best for 10 years - while it also saw the group return to overall quarterly revenue growth for the first time in four and a half years, up 2% to £4.6 billion.
Underlying pre-tax profits rose by a better-than-expected 8% to £722 million and BT upped its full-year earnings guidance as it said cost-cutting efforts were offsetting its hefty BT Sport outlays.
There have been fears over the financial impact of BT's recent sport deals after it forked out almost £900 million in November to secure the UK rights to show Champions League and Europa League matches, which followed hot on the heels of its £738 million deal for 38 live Premier League matches.
But BT said today progress on cost savings would now see underlying annual earnings come in towards the top of the expected range of between £6 billion to £6.1 billion.
BSkyB fought back yesterday having been left reeling recently after losing out on the key football rights to BT, hailing "explosive growth" for its on-demand TV service and announcing a new five-year deal for the exclusive rights to the entire HBO TV catalogue, which includes top US shows such as Girls and Game Of Thrones.
BT said it attracted more than 1.5 million viewers for two games over the festive quarter - Manchester City v Liverpool and Manchester United v Spurs.
It currently offers BT Sport free to broadband customers, except those who have signed up for high definition, but experts expect the group to be forced to start charging to recoup its costs.
BT remained tight-lipped on future plans to change the offer, but confirmed it will start charging for full access to Champions and Europa League matches in 2015/16.
It was helped by a 2% reduction in overall group costs in the quarter as it continues to make efficiencies across its UK and worldwide operations, automating where it can.
Shares in the group rose 3% after the update.
Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: "BT is a company firing on all cylinders, with extra propulsion coming in the form of its high-profile entry into the TV sporting arena."
BT said it saw record numbers sign up to its fibre broadband, with 228,000 net adds, although that also includes existing customers who upgraded.
The number of consumer line losses during its third quarter also dropped by 60% to 70,000.
BT is forming a joint venture with T-Mobile and Orange parent EE to launch a mobile phone service this year, which could be bundled with its other offerings in a so-called "quad play" package.
BSkyB is rumoured to be looking to counter this with a tie-up with Vodafone, saying yesterday it was "open minded" about partnering with other firms, but adding it was not "imperative" for the business.