BT Mulls Freeview Pay-TV, Bets Big On Fibre

BT (NYSE: BT) seemingly wants to show Sky Sports and Movies over Freeview as well as IPTV, if Ofcom’s upcoming report on the pay-TV market compels Sky to wholesale its channels more widely.

We’ll do it over all three – copper, DTT and fibre – it depends on the availability of the content,” BT Retail CEO Gavin Patterson told analysts on a conference call to announce BT’s October-to-December earnings.

Unclear whether BT would use Top-Up TV for conditional-access to the Freeview transmissions, or its own BT Vision boxes, which have built-in Freeview receivers – or whether this is just pie-in-the-sky.

The earnings…

Shrinking telephone income knocked BT Retail consumer revenue down four percent from 2008’s same period, though phone-broadband-TV bundling is proving as much a benefit to BT as it is to Sky and Virgin – it pushed average revenue per customer up by £5 from the previous three months, to £301 a year.

BT’s share of today’s broadband market remained static at 35 percent, after 102,000 sign-ups in the quarter took it over the five million customer mark. Interestingly, the property slump hit Openreach, BT’s division which gives rival operators access to its local exchanges – this wholesale line rental dipped “due to the depressed housing market”, pushing revenue down 37 percent, presumably because home-building slowed…

But BT has now committed Openreach to giving fibre-to-the-cabinet or fibre-to-the-home for 10 million homes by 2012 at a cost of £1.5 billion, ie. £150 per customer capex. “Fibre will help that trend (of line loss),” Patterson said. CEO Ian Livingston said: “We’re doing 80,000 houses a weekWe’re in discussion with Carphone and Sky and others about where we take the service next.”

Although BT already has ADSL2+ broadband on its existing copper-wire lines, with maximum speeds of 24Mbps, fibre – in the form of BT Total Broadband and BT Infinity packages – will offer 40Mbps downstream and up to 10Mbps upstream…

Livingston sees the latter as an asset: “Increasingly, that may be the longest pole in the tent for people – increasingly, applications are interactive, so I think people will (want) greater upstream speeds.” But headline upload speeds are far less appealing to consumers who consume, rather than publish content, so Virgin’s imminent 100Mbps will offer a speed advantage over BT.

BT Vision hit 451,000 customers in the quarter, but BT can hardly wait for Project Canvas, which would supercharge the underperfoming IPTV service, to materialise.

Overall pre-tax profit for the quarter bounced back up 158 percent from the previous year to £209 million, on four percent higher revenue, after cost cuts particularly in the global services division.

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