BSkyB revenues were up 6% to £5.38B ($8.37B) with operating profit beating forecasts by jumping 9% to £994M ($1.55B). The News Corp.-controlled company announced its third-quarter results this morning with CEO Jeremy Darroch noting that it would add 550 jobs to meet demand and serve a growing customer base. He added that the number of Internet- connected Sky+HD boxes grew by almost 45,000 each week during the quarter, leading to a five-fold increase in On Demand downloads and a 37% growth in movie rentals against last year. Britain’s largest pay-TV operator said it had over 30M paid-for subscription products across TV, broadband and telephony the first time in its history. Its customer base is now at 10.7M in the UK and Ireland. The churn rate was up, however, to 10.8% versus 10.1% in the comparable quarter last year. BSkyB competes most notably with BT and Virgin Media in the UK and is likely to see that competition heat up with John Malone’s Liberty Global recently getting the go-ahead from European authorities to acquire Virgin in a $23.3B takeover.
BREAKING… 21st Century Fox replaces the previously announced name Fox Group for the independent media and entertainment company. The publishing side will retain the name News Corp when the Big Media corporation splits off its two main businesses. The new name will be effective with the separation and “draws on the Company’s creative heritage, while also speaking to the future as well as the innovation that defines its portfolio of businesses,” according to today’s press release. (I hear Rupert Murdoch‘s giant actually hired a naming company for this rather obvious choice unofficially pictured here.) Under the 21st Century Fox umbrella will be a global portfolio of cable and broadcasting networks and properties, including FOX, FX, FXX, FS1, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, Fox Sports, Fox Sports Network, National Geographic Channels, Fox Pan American Sports, MundoFox and STAR; film studio Twentieth Century Fox Film; and television production studios Twentieth Century Fox Television and Shine Group as well as its pay-television services in Europe and Asia, including Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia and its equity interests in BSkyB and Tata Sky. On June 28, 2012, News Corp announced the separation of its businesses into two separate independent companies, with the other containing newspapers, information services, and integrated marketing services, digital real estate services, book publishing, digital education and sports programming and pay-TV distribution in Australia. The split still needs federal regulatory approval. Here is Murdoch’s memo to all employees about the new name announcement:
UPDATE, TUESDAY 6:06 AM PT: In the wake of Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, I hear there are “a lot of conversations going on” at the BBC over security for its live coverage of the London Marathon on Sunday. Those talks will continue throughout the week. The network, which is the exclusive UK broadcaster for the event, released the following statement today: “The BBC will be covering the London Marathon. We take event safety very seriously and are liaising with the relevant authorities. Our thoughts are with those affected by the sad events in Boston.” Elsewhere in Europe, the Hamburg Marathon in Germany is also moving forward on Sunday. A spokesperson there tells me there are no changes planned for the three-plus hours of live coverage on NDR, a regional channel of public broadcaster ARD.
Liberty Global chairman John Malone is a step closer to facing off in the British cable biz with long-time frenemy Rupert Murdoch. European authorities today cleared Liberty’s $23.3B takeover of UK cable operator Virgin Media. The European Commission said its investigation “confirmed that the transaction would not raise competition concerns, in particular because the parties operate cable networks in different Member States and because of the merged entity’s limited market position in the wholesale of TV channels in the UK and Ireland.” Liberty already operates in 10 European Union states, including Ireland, but not the UK. Virgin is the second largest pay-TV operator in the UK where it competes, notably, with the News Corp.-controlled Sky. The Commission said the combined group “would still face sufficient competitive constraint from other players.” The deal was originally announced in February. In March, we reported that Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett will exit with $86.8M in severance, options and rewards once the transaction is completed.
Along with an emphasis on cross-border series, among the takeaways from this week’s Mip-TV market was the increased merging of technology and content. Of the 4,000 acquisition execs in town, 800 were VOD and digital buyers – a 30% jump on last year. Cinedigm did a digital/VOD deal for more than 1,000 episodes of TV shows from Australia’s ABC which CEO Chris McGurk said reflected the “ever-growing importance of efficient, cost-effective delivery of digital content worldwide.”
YouTube was part of the discussion. Tim Hincks, president of Dutch giant Endemol, which has over 100 YouTube channels, said the company will soon launch a new Fear Factor channel, effectively reviving the brand in the U.S. But he stressed that “It’s not how much you’ve got, it’s what you do with them. It’s tying them together and marketing to the consumers and YouTubers on the different channels.”
But BSkyB managing director of content, Sophie Turner Lang, urged attendees to “Talk about the shows, not the pipes.” It’s storytelling that engages audiences, she said, noting that creative meetings have reversed from mostly being about story and talent to being about “protection and digital delivery.”
Former BBC Daytime controller Liam Keelan was originally named dirctor of BSkyB‘s flagship Sky 1 HD back in December, but he later pulled out to move to BBC Worldwide. After opening up the search again, Sky has now named Adam MacDonald to oversee the channel. MacDonald joins from A+E Networks UK – a joint venture of A+E Networks and News Corp.-controlled BskyB – where he’s VP of programming. Former Sky 1 director Stuart Murphy has been bumped up to oversee Sky’s entertainment portfolio Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts, Challenge and Pick TV. Sky 1 was named Channel of the Year at the Broadcast Awards in 2012 and overall, Sky has commited £600M ($975M) for UK content and production across all of its channels by 2014. Among upcoming projects, Sky Atlantic is co-producing The Tunnel and biopic Fleming; Sky Arts has the Playhouse Presents series in the pipeline with talent that includes Anna Friel, Matt Smith, Idris Elba and Vanessa Redgrave and Sky Living is co-producing NBC series Dracula.
News Corp. has been raising the profile of deputy COO James Murdoch of late with the exec making two appearances before investors last month. Is News Corp. also looking to rebuild his coterie of board seats? Germany’s Sky Deutschland plans to appoint Murdoch as a member of its supervisory board, according to Reuters. The pay-TV group, a source told the news agency, expects to benefit from Murdoch’s international market and new technology savvy. Amid the phone-hakcing and bribery scandals at News Corp.’s UK press division last year, Murdoch left chairmanships at News International and at pay-TV group BSkyB, which News Corp. controls via its 39% stake. He also ankled the boards of Sotheby’s, GlaxoSmithKline and News Corp.’s UK print operations. But, he retained his board seat at BSkyB. News Corp. owns 54.8% of Sky Deutschland and if Murdoch does join the company board, he would be surrounded by News Corp. execs. COO Chase Carey, 20th Century Fox Television Distribution president Mark Kaner, News International CEO Thomas Mockridge and Europe & Asia COO Jan Koeppen are all members.
Once John Malone’s Liberty Global finalizes its $23.3B acquisition of the UK’s Virgin Media, Virgin CEO Neil Berkett will leave with $19.6M in severance and $67.2M in other options and rewards, a company spokesman confirms. Berkett joined Virgin as COO in 2005 and was named CEO in March of 2008. The native New Zealander said he would exit after the merger closes, which Liberty Global expects will be in the second quarter of this year. Under Berkett’s stewardship, Virgin Media’s share price has tripled as it competes in the pay-TV, telephone and broadband space that is also inhabited by the News Corp.-controlled BSkyB and by BT, among others. The UK’s second largest pay-TV operator, Virgin Media has 4.9M subscribers. A search is currently underway for Berkett’s replacement and the exec is unsure of his future plans. “I haven’t thought much ahead about what I’d like to do,” he said at last week’s Cable Congress in London.
Jackie Chan Ridiculed In Hong Kong For Pro-China Stance
Hong Kong action icon Jackie Chan faces a backlash in his hometown for joining China’s top political advisory body. Hong Kong remains suspicious of the mainland and many believe Chan was selected to appear at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference because of his visibility. Professor Sonny Ho, co-director at the Centre for Greater China Studies, describes the conference’s “united front” strategy as a campaign to promote a strong and peaceful homeland, unified with Taiwan. China’s growing clout has seen actors from Hong Kong and Macau drafted into patriotic movies that glorify the country’s past including the early Communist Party era. Chan’s appointment to the conference met derision online for his pro-Beijing stances such as calling for limits on the right to protest.
Upping the stakes in its rivalry with Virgin Media, News Corp.-controlled BSkyB will acquire the broadband and fixed-line telephone business of Telefonica UK making Sky the second-largest broadband provider in the market. The company is adding more than half a million subscribers via the deal for about 4.7M total, which puts it about 200,000 ahead of Virgin – itself the subject of a takeover by John Malone’s Liberty Global. Sky is paying £180M for Telefonica’s consumer broadband, home phone and line rental customers and up to £20M in contingency fees. The acquisition, expected to complete in April, is subject to regulatory clearance.
In a deal expected to close in late July, UK telecommunications provider BT will acquire ESPN‘s UK and Ireland TV channels business which primarily includes the ESPN and ESPN America channels. As part of the deal, BT, an aggressive player in the UK sports rights arena, will pick up those channels’ rights to live soccer matches from the FA Cup, the UEFA Europe League, the German Bundesliga and the Scottish Premier League. BT will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel and will continue to air U.S. sports including NCAA college basketball, NCAA college football and NASCAR. Disney-owned ESPN had been seeking an exit from the ultra-competitive UK market which BT entered last year via a £738M deal ($1.1B) for 38 live Premier League soccer games annually for three years from the start of the 2013-14 season. That competition resulted in split rights with News Corp’s BSkyB and shut out ESPN. BT has acquired additional rights to high-profile rugby and tennis tournaments as well and is launching a new Sport TV package this summer. ESPN will continue to own and operate its existing digital media businesses while the non-UK ESPN America TV businesses and ESPN Classic are expected to be wound down throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. BT said the transaction is expected to complete on July 31. Financials were not disclosed.
The deal gives BSkyB exclusive rights to Disney‘s new and classic titles and includes the creation of pay-TV channel Sky Movies Disney, which beings airing March 28, Bloomberg reports. Under the agreement, BSkyB will have first-run rights to the newest Disney films including Brave, Tinker Bell: Secret Of The Wings and Wreck-It Ralph. Older Disney films, including Finding Nemo, Cars and A Bug’s Life, also will be available on the channels. The deal also gives BSkyB first-run rights to show movies from Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios, such as Iron Man 3 and The Avengers across other Sky channels. BSkyB is about 40 percent owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
UK telecommunications provider BT is negotiating to buy soccer rights from ESPN as the Disney-owned channel explores an exit from the UK, the Financial Times reports. BT aims to launch as many as three sports channels offering soccer, rugby and other sports content the company has already secured for about £1B ($1.6B). The ESPN rights that may be up for grabs to BSkyB as well as BT include games from the German Bundesliga, the Europa League and the English Football Association Cup. Interest in sports rights has driven up costs for broadcasters globally as well as in the U.S. The rights in question might cost £20M ($32M) or more annually. Last summer BT paid £738m ($1.18B or about $394M per season) for the rights to 32 Premier League football games for three years in a competition that split rights with News Corp’s BSkyB. ESPN was outbid in that contest and lost the rights. BT has acquired additional rights as well and is preparing the multiplatform sports service for a pre-summer launch.
UPDATE 5:21 PM: Liberty Global and Virgin Media confirmed late today that Liberty will acquire Virgin Media. Here’s the release:
ENGLEWOOD, Colo.–Liberty Global, Inc. (“Liberty Global”) (NASDAQ: LBTYA, LBTYB and LBTYK) and Virgin Media Inc. (“Virgin Media”) (NASDAQ: VMED; LSE: VMED) today announced that they have entered into an agreement, subject to shareholder approvals, pursuant to which Liberty Global will acquire Virgin Media in a stock and cash merger valued at approximately $23.3 billion.
Under the terms of the agreement, Virgin Media shareholders will receive $17.50 in cash, 0.2582 Liberty Global Series A shares and 0.1928 Liberty Global Series C shares for each Virgin Media share that they hold. Based on Liberty Global’s Series A share price of $69.46 and Series C share price of $64.50 as of February 4, 2013, this implies a price of $47.87 per Virgin Media share, reflecting a 24% premium to Virgin Media’s closing price on February 4, 2013.1
PREVIOUS: Setting the stage for a battle of billionaires John Malone and Rupert Murdoch, Virgin Media has just released a statement regarding yesterday’s news that Malone‘s Liberty Global is prepping a $20B+ bid for the group. The UK’s second largest pay-TV operator confirmed it is “in discussions” with Liberty Global “concerning a possible transaction.” A move by Malone on Virgin and its 4.9M subscribers would pit him against long-time frenemy Murdoch whose …
This would be John Malone’s most ambitious effort to become a media power in the UK, the Financial Times says — noting that “several people familiar with the situation” believe a bid “could be announced in the coming days.” The paper also says that a move on the cable company, which had nearly 4.9M video subscribers at the end of September, could pit Malone against his long-time frenemy Rupert Murdoch. News Corp owns 39.1% of satellite broadcaster BSkyB. Malone has long been interested in Virgin. In 2007 he said that his company was “doing our homework” to compete in an auction if it took place. The previous year he and Murdoch ended a two year battle that began when Liberty quietly bought a 16.3% stake in News Corp. Murdoch won back the shares by giving Malone a 38.5% stake in DirecTV, as well as $550M and three regional sports networks. Malone’s Liberty Global now has 19.6M cable customers in 13 countries, including 11 in Europe.
Sky and Sony Pictures Television have signed a new multi-year agreement giving the News Corp-controlled group first window rights to the studio’s new and classic movies in the UK and Ireland. BSkyB made the announcement this morning as it reported better-than-expected fiscal first half results. Operating profit for the six months ended December 31 was up 8% to £647M ($1.02B) versus £601M ($951M) in the last comparable period. The leading satcaster noted this morning that, “In a tough economic environment, more customers are taking more products and spending more money with Sky.” In the three months to December 31, the company added 615,000 products and 88,000 new subscribers for a total base of 10.7M. The period saw particular growth of weekly On Demand downloads, up 150%, and users of the recently-launched Sky Go service also increased by 46% to 3.1M. Chairman Jeremy Darroch commented, “Although we expect the consumer environment in 2013 to remain challenging, we have a strong set of plans for the year ahead.
I could have run the same headline almost every day this month. The media giant has been on a tear, surpassing prices that it hasn’t seen since February 2007. News Corp closed today at $27.90, up 0.4% from yesterday — and +9.4% since New Year’s Day, a period when the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 was up 5.3%. Why so much enthusiasm? Many investors are excited by the planned spin off of the newspaper properties, which usually offset profits generated by the cable networks and entertainment assets. The Street’s also intrigued to see CEO Rupert Murdoch making deals again. They liked the one in November to buy 49% of the New York Yankees’ YES Network, as well as the talk about Fox mobilizing its sports properties to create two national sports channels. With the newspaper properties going, there’s less fear that he’ll stick Fox with a deal they’ll hate — like his $5B purchase of Dow Jones in 2007.
‘The Following’ Gets Killer Ratings On Sky Atlantic
Kevin Bacon serial killer drama The Following had a solid debut on Fox in the U.S. on Monday and on Tuesday premiered on UK pay channel Sky Atlantic. In the 10PM-11PM slot, the violent horror thriller drew an average of 270,000 viewers for a 1.4% share. The numbers may not sound earth-shattering but they were more than 636% higher than the slot average over the past three months, The Guardian reported. Meanwhile, the premiere of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ reality show about English manses, Great Houses With Julian Fellowes, drew 2.2M viewers on ITV at 9PM for an 8.8% share on Tuesday.
Global Showbiz Briefs: Aussie Box Office, Russell Crowe, Palace Cinemas, British Film Institute & More
Aussie 2012 B.O. Up But Below 2010 Record
Australian cinemas raked in $A1.125 billion ($1.188 billion) in 2012, up 2.8% on the previous year but a fraction below the industry 2010 record of $1.128 billion, the year of Avatar, according to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia. The Aussie films’ B.O. share was 4.3%, slightly above the 10-year average of 3.8%. The MPDAA’s stats do not quantify ticket sales but Deadline estimates the admissions total was 85.8 million in 2012, based on an average ticket price of $13.10, compared with 85 million in 2011 and 92 million in 2010. The transition from 35mm film projection to digital continued apace an estimated 72% of the country’s 1,995 screens are now digital, including all major circuits; of those, 57% are 3D capable. The year’s top-grosser was The Avengers with $53.2 million; the best result for an Aussie film was The Sapphires with $14.4 million.- Don Groves