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UK viewers willing to pay for TV - 24-February-2009, 05:44

UK viewers willing to pay for TV
Chris Forrester 23-02-2009

Londons Financial Times uses an old slogan from the (then) News Corp-owned conditional access supplier NDS: Staying in is the new going out, as the headline to a generally upbeat story about BSkyB. But there is some caution in the piece.

The FT says of Sky: In spite of charging almost 50 a month for a full package of channels, the satellite broadcaster is still signing up new customers at a healthy rate. And many of them are taking its high-definition service, which costs even more, says the FT. Clearly, the public is willing to pay for distraction from the misery of the slump.

Sky, says the FT, must be confident that this trend will continue, although cautions that BSkyBs share price when compared to the rest of the market and media stocks in particular is now near a 5-year high. That puts the uptrend since October - which saw the broadcaster surge two thirds from its low - in jeopardy. In fact, on a longer-term view, the shares' multi-year bear market remains intact. This suggests that we may be in for further aggressive downside before too long, says the FT.

But theres a contrary view, which implies that with the possible exception of its purchase of 17.9% of commercial network ITV (which stopped arch-rival Virgin Media from merging with ITV), BSkyB rarely puts a foot wrong. While some analysts argue that Sky has over-paid for its recent Premiership soccer rights, and that the credit crunch would damage its forward sales, and that theres no longer any growth potential from British viewers.. and so forth, all the pointers suggest the opposite is true.

In other words, its customer numbers improve every quarter, it has diversified into broadband and telephony, and its award-winning Sky+ box is now in some 50% of its subscriber homes. Even Skys share of the struggling UK ad-market is increasing. January and February saw advertising revenues contract and March will be difficult, right up to late Easter, but beyond that, things will improve. The first quarter will probably be the worst of the year. But in all honesty, TV ads are cheap. There aren't very many things you can buy for 1985 prices - aside from banking shares. And so we expect to outperform the market in terms of advertising revenue in 2009, says finance director Andrew Griffith in Fridays Investors Chronicle.
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