Virgin Media’s Irish TV customers take flight amid strong global results

Virgin Media has suffered a 14pc fall in its Irish TV customer base over the last year, new accounts show.

The operator, which rebranded from UPC last year, lost 53,900 television customers in the last 12 months as stiff competition from Sky, Eir and Saorview continue to bite.

Virgin also saw a slight fall in its broadband customers in Ireland for the first time, with the company shedding 3,500 internet customers over the last three months, a drop of 1pc.

However, its broadband base is still up 0.6pc compared to 12 months ago.

The figures mark a tough trading year for Liberty Global’s Irish operation, which saw its overall customer base here shrink by 8pc, or 43,600 customers.

Some of its customer erosion was down to the cessation of its MMDS service in rural parts of the country, resulting in a loss of between 10,000 and 20,000 customers. However, the operator now has over 10,000 new mobile customers here through its Virgin Mobile service.

“The Irish market is intensely competitive,” said a spokeswoman for the company.

“The adjustment in customer numbers includes a large element of MMDS customers transferring off of our network in advance of the MMDS licence and service concluding.”

The spokeswoman said that Virgin’s small business sales are 33pc up on a year ago, without specifying figures. She also said that Virgin Media’s local Irish wifi acquisition, Bitbuzz, is “performing incredibly well”.

“Since we started transforming to Virgin Media in quarter four last year we have increased the speed of Ireland’s fastest broadband network, further enhanced our digital TV services and launched a great value mobile service,” she said.

Around the world, Liberty Global reported first-quarter sales that beat analysts’ estimates as it gained customers in Chile, Germany and Belgium. Revenue at billionaire John Malone’s business grew 1.6pc to $4.59bn. Analysts had predicted sales of $4.36bn on average. The company added 156,000 customers, overall, in the period. The company, which now owns TV3, has not bid for the Irish Government’s National Broadband Plan as it focuses on its existing business.

In February, Liberty agreed to combine its business in the Netherlands with Vodafone Group, joining forces to challenge Royal KPN and Deutsche Telekom.

The combination of Liberty’s Ziggo and Vodafone brands would create a business with more than five million mobile subscribers, four million video clients and three million broadband customers.

“We exceeded our own expectations for the first quarter with more than 150,000 new revenue-generating units, a sharp increase from last year, as we demonstrated improved momentum across all products,” chief executive officer Mike Fries said in the statement.

The net loss for the quarter narrowed to $369.1m from $537.5m a year earlier, Liberty Global said in a regulatory filing.

Liberty Global said it added 135,000 subscriptions through so-called organic growth during the quarter. The company’s expansion has been coming from broadband customers as its video business loses ground to streaming services.

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