Sky Forecast to Overtake John Malone's Liberty Global as Largest Pay TV Provider in Western Europe

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While the region is expected to see pay TV sub growth, "traditional pay TV operators now face greater rivalry than ever before," including from Netflix, a new forecast says.

John Malone's Liberty Global has been the largest pay TV operator in Europe in terms of subscriber numbers for some time.

"However, its top slot in Western Europe is under threat, with Sky expected to overtake its [satellite TV] subscriber count in 2017," according to a new forecast from Digital TV Research.

The research firm predicts Sky, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake, will in 2020 reach 18.36 million subscribers, compared with 17.49 million for Liberty Global.

In 2014, the companies had 10.44 million and 18.98 million subscribers, respectively, according to the firm.

"Liberty Global’s subscriber count will fall as the company has to try to convert 8 million analog cable subs in 2010 to none by 2020, some of these subs will be lost to other digital platforms," the firm said in its report. "To put it another way, Liberty Global’s analog TV revenues in Western Europe in 2010 were $1.5 billion (29 percent of its total) – but they will fall to nothing by 2020."

Pay TV subscriptions for the 66 operators across 15 countries covered in the forecast will increase from 82.0 million in 2010 to 93.1 million by 2020, Digital TV Research projects. But only 36, or 55 percent, of these operators will add subscribers between 2014 and 2020.

"Traditional pay TV operators now face greater rivalry than ever before – either from other pay TV platforms...or from "free" multichannel TV services, such as Digital Terrestrial Television and OTT TV, and video, such as Netflix," the report said.