Virgin Media faces tough task with TV customers' exodus
Virgin Media, formerly UPC Ireland, lost 10pc of its Irish TV customer base in the last year with more losses on the way, according to its latest financial accounts.
As competition in the television subscription market intensifies, the company also disclosed it lost 22,000 Irish customers (4pc) in the last 12 months and over 41,000 (7pc) in the last four years.
Its Irish broadband and home phone customer bases continued to rise, however, with gains of 2pc and 4pc respectively.
The figures represent the sharpest fall in the operator's Irish television subscriber base to date, with a loss of 38,000 TV customers leaving its total TV base at 365,500, down from 403,500 a year ago.
The company is due to see a further 22,000 TV customers cut off in April with the termination of its MMDS service due to spectrum reallocation. This will leave Virgin's television subscription base down over 20pc from where it was four years ago. In 2012, the company had 446,400 television subscribers but is down to 365,500 television subscribers today.
The sharp fall in its TV customer base means that Virgin now has more broadband customers than TV customers in Ireland for the first time in the company's history.
However, the company has managed to eke out more business from existing customers in that time, with the overall number of services (which the company measures as 'revenue-generating units') taken up by its subscribers increasing by 10pc in the last four years.
The fall in Virgin's Irish television business comes at a time when aggressive competition in the sector has increased.
The company's biggest competitor, Sky, has consolidated its television customer base at over 700,000 subscribers. Saorview, the free-to-air television service, has climbed to become the primary television service in 186,000 Irish homes. Eir's recently-introduced television service now has 45,000 customers, while Vodafone has just launched its own full-complement TV subscription service.
Virgin Media Ireland's chief executive, Tony Hanway, has said that he believes the company has seen the worst of its TV subscriber losses.
"It's stabilising," he told this newspaper last month.
"I expect it to stabilise. That's what we're seeing. I think our platform has improved. I think our interface is better."
The financial accounts also show that Virgin's broadband growth has slowed considerably, rising 2pc on the same time last year to 371,200.
It is the company's slowest rate of broadband customer growth in Ireland since it introduced the service.
However it is doing better in the growth of its home phone service, which increased by 4pc to 358,100 in the last 12 months.
Virgin's broadband and television network is available in less than half of Irish homes and businesses and is concentrated in cities and urban areas.
Mr Hanway said the company is to invest in an expansion of its network this year. Virgin also disclosed it has 7,600 Irish mobile phone customers since the launch of its virtual mobile service here. The company is adding approximately 2,000 mobile customers per month, according to its accounts.
The accounts were published as Virgin Media's parent company, Liberty Global, announced a new €1bn deal with Vodafone that will give the mobile operator access to Liberty Global's fibre network in Holland.