Broadband boosts Liberty Global revenues as Horizon takes off

Liberty Global has given the first view of its Horizon platform sales by revealing that it has sold 50,000 subscriptions for the hybrid TV service since its launch at IBC in September.

At the same time, the operator, which ranks as the world’s second-largest cable TV company with 20 million customers in 11 European countries plus Puerto Rico and Chile, reported a 4.1-percent rise in revenues to $333.1 million for its third quarter ending Sept. 30, 2012. As for many operators, this was driven more by growth in broadband than pay TV, and in Liberty Global’s case by a strong performance across its West European operations as well as Chile, both up 7 percent, while sales in central and eastern Europe sales were down 1percent for the quarter year-on-year.

Losses were cut sharply to $22 million from $333.1 million a year earlier, but this was mostly attributable to the fall in the exchange rate of the Euro, in which it conducts most of its business, against the dollar, in which it reports its results. Like some other big operators in Europe, such as Sky Deutschland and Vivendi, Liberty Global has been investing heavily in growth while the pay-TV market is still expanding, hoping to recoup later. As Liberty Global’s CEO Mike Fries pointed out while discussing the Q3 results, in its home market of the Netherlands where it trades under the UPC brand and announced Horizon first, saturation has arrived with only limited scope for further growth there in the number of digital subscribers.

UPC Netherlands gained just 9400 net digital subscribers in the last quarter compared with 18,000 in the second quarter ending June 30, against a total of 1.065 million digital customers in the country. Against this background, Liberty Global is betting heavily on Horizon for future success both in shoring up its now substantial customer base and also increasing ARPU. Horizon is also at the core of Liberty Global's strategy to migrate video services to IP and expand support for connected screens that rely on a common, cloud-based user interface. Liberty Global also offers an open software developers' kit and an app store to bring third party developers on board.

The service (built around a hybrid DVR made by Samsung streaming via WiFi or MoCA to second screens around the home and also with an online Internet service for tablets, PCs and smartphones) was first announced in Sept. 2011. The launch was delayed until Sept. 2012, with little changing except an increase in the number of channels from 60 to 80. The ecosystem remained as announced, with NDS providing the user interface middleware with some enhancements from Liberty Global itself, Nagra, the conditional access, Google’s Widevine the security for the online service, and for home networking Entropic MoCA silicon paired with WiFi chips from Celeno.

The 50,000 Horizon subs coupled with 125,000 unique online users, representing an average of 2.5 per home, was gained in a five-week period after going live on Sept. 21. Liberty Global will follow by launching Horizon TV in Switzerland later this month. In Q1 2013, the all-important German market, where it has 7 million customers, is set for the service before Ireland (which is approaching 1 million subscribers) receives it later in the year.

Meanwhile, Liberty Global is still spending on expanding or reinforcing its empire in Europe, with an informal bid of $2.5 billion on the table to acquire the shares in Belgian cable company Telenet that it does not already own. Currently, Liberty Global holds just over 50 percent of Telenet, which has about 2.1 million analog and digital cable TV customers, but the negotiations are turning hostile. Telenet has been citing a higher valuation than Liberty Global put on it, and the outcome is still unclear.