Belfast Telegraph

Virgin Media notches up record start to the new year

Telecoms giant Virgin Media said it notched up a record start to the new year as a jump in broadband customers helped offset a further hit to its TV arm after recent price increases.

The group, which was bought by Liberty Global in 2013, said it added 55,000 customers on a net basis - those joining less those leaving - in the first three months of 2016 in its best ever performance.

It thanked a broadband marketing push over the winter for boosting customer growth, while it also saw fewer customers leaving the business.

The group more than doubled the number of new internet customers to 67,000 in the quarter, while it also hailed a strong performance from its mobile arm as it added a net 46,600 contract customers in the UK and Ireland, against 18,800 a year earlier.

It continued to lose TV customers after last year's move to raise the price of its TV XL package by £3 to recoup some of the increased costs of sports rights, which include live Premier League football.

But Virgin Media said it had begun to see a turnaround, with the numbers of customers quitting the group easing to 17,900 against 25,600 a year earlier.

Overall underlying earnings rose by 4% year-on-year to £520 million in the first quarter.

Tom Mockridge, chief executive of Virgin Media, said: "We're continuing to invest for future growth, enhancing our TV service with new on-demand programmes and making the fastest widely available broadband speeds to ever more homes and businesses."

The group is leading a campaign to deliver ultrafast broadband speeds across the UK - dubbed Project Lightning - which recently saw it throw down the gauntlet to rival BT with plans to lay a million fibre-optic broadband lines direct to homes and business premises in the next three years.

BT last week followed with a pledge to spend £6 billion on faster mobile and broadband services across the UK over the next three years, including laying fibre optic lines to around two million premises.

It came amid the threat of a forced split of BT's network arm Openreach, with Ofcom recently ordering BT to open it up to competitors.

Virgin Media said Project Lightning was a " key source of customer growth" in the UK, with ultrafast broadband connections added to around 70,000 new build homes and businesses in the first quarter.

It is on track to add over 500,000 premises in 2016, taking the total to over 750,000 by the end of the year