Liberty Global Touts Smallest Pay TV Subscriber Drop Since 2006

John Malone Sun Valley 2012 - P 2013
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John Malone Sun Valley 2012 - P 2013

CEO Mike Fries also discusses possible acquisitions in Latin America and a $4.6 billion U.K. broadband investment by the company controlled by John Malone.

John Malone’s pan-European cable giant Liberty Global said on Friday that its pay TV subscriber losses in 2014 were its smallest in eight years.

The company’s video subscriber loss of 223,000 for the full-year of 2014, is down from 294,000 in 2013, including a loss of 35,000 customers in the fourth quarter, down from 50,000 in the year-ago period. Liberty Global said that was its best annual result since 2006.

CEO Mike Fries on a conference call with analysts touted the success of investments in entertainment video offerings, such as increased VOD offers and a continuing rollout of TiVo services.

Fries called growth “the most important part of our story,” saying that most of it was coming from broadband. But then said that the lower level of video losses also helps the company’s momentum.

Discussing Liberty Global’s MyPrime over-the-top video platform, which competes with Netflix, Fries said subscribers “love it.” He cited usage of more than 40 percent on TV sets and other devices in Holland and Switzerland.

Read more Liberty Global Has "No Current Plans" to Raise ITV Stake

Fries on Friday also touted the outlook for a planned tracking stock for the company’s smaller Latin American business, which shareholders will get to vote on later this month. The CEO said there was room for further expansion in the region given that broadband penetration was only at 25 percent and pay TV penetration also has more upside. Given few stock market-listed Latin American pay TV companies, the tracking stock will be an interesting opportunity for shareholders, he argued.

Given Liberty Global’s track record of acquisitions, Fries also said that there will be “some very interesting” consolidation opportunities in Latin America. He didn’t provide specifics.

Management also spent much time on the call discussing a Friday announcement from its Virgin Media unit in the U.K. that it would invest $4.6 billion in what it calls “Project Lightning,” designed to connect more households to its broadband network.

Calling it the largest U.K. Internet infrastructure investment in more than a decade, the company said it will be able to reach 17 million additional homes and businesses, a third more than today, by 2020. Liberty Global acquired Virgin Media for $16 billion in 2013.

Read more MIPCOM: Scripps Extends Pan-European Deal With Liberty Global

Liberty Global reported a wider fourth-quarter loss of $523.4 million, compared with a loss of $121.2 million in the year-ago period. Revenue rose 3.3 percent to $4.62 billion.

The company added 351,000 subscription services in the quarter, ending the year with a total of 55.9 million. Those include 24.3 million video subscriptions, 17.3 million broadband and 14.3 million telephony subscriptions.

Twitter: @georgszalai