BT Group hails broadband gains
Telecoms group BT has reported a 14% rise in annual profits, claiming it is outpacing its rivals in winning new broadband customers.
Pre-tax profit rose to £2.645bn for the year to the end of March but revenues at the group dipped 2% to £17.85bn.
It said business was being driven by the consumer division which is offering Premier League football coverage.
It added 121,000 retail broadband customers in the first three months of the year.
This led to a claim that, on this front, it had outpaced rivals Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin, for seven quarters in a row.
BT also said it connected a record 455,000 new fibre broadband customers in the first three months of the year, a 31% increase on the same period last year.
Good growth among householders "was offset by declines in our other lines of business", the group said, with BT Business hit by lower call and line volumes as customers opted to use internet services instead.
The company has been seeking to attract customers by securing sports rights. It already shows Premier League matches, and it has paid £960m for the rights to screen 42 Premier League games a season for three years from 2016-17.
BT will also show Champions League football next season after paying £897m for the rights. BT's chief executive Gavin Patterson said there would be a "small subscription charge" for those wanting to access the entire 350-game package that also includes the Europa League, though some games would be free.
The company has been working to transform itself over the last few years into what is called a "Quad Play", that is providing services spanning mobiles, telephony, broadband and Pay TV.
Last week, BT shareholders approved the company's plan to buy mobile operator EE for £12.5bn. BT will gain a foothold in the mobile telecoms business through the deal, which is awaiting regulatory approval.
Some analysts have suggested this is putting BT in a strong position.
"The jigsaw is slotting into place," said Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers.
"Within the headline numbers, and assuming that the EE deal gains approval, BT will have market leading positions in three of the offerings making up the quad play proposition.
"Even the fourth, namely TV, will have exclusive Champions League football in addition to the Premier League rights recently negotiated. As such, the overall quad play bundle will become an increasingly compelling offer for consumers."
BT said it had made further progress in cutting its costs, "contributing to a 6% decline in operating costs in the fourth quarter".
The company said it would pay a dividend of 12.4p per share, up 14% on last year.