Virgin Media, of which Branson is the largest shareholder, today reported losses of market share in each of its four key areas. The firm has already had to put its $23bn auction on hold indefinitely because of uncertainty in the credit markets, and these latest results are another kick in the teeth. Especially as its ‘quadruple play’ was supposed to be its main selling point.
Just 125,000 of the company’s 4.7m customers have signed up for much-vaunted combo of pay-TV, broadband, mobile and fixed-line telephony. It also lost 70,300 customers in the last quarter, 40,000 of which were apparently down to the battle with BSkyB. The contrast in fortunes is stark. Virgin signed up 51,000 new broadband customers in the three months to June 30, compared with BSkyB's 259,000. Rupert Murdoch’s outfit, which only started selling broadband in July last year, seized 51% of new broadband customers in the quarter. Virgin also lost 47,000 fixed-line phone customers in the three months to June 30, while Sky signed up 171,000.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Branson had to weather more literal storms with the launch of his new airline, Virgin America, in which his Virgin Group has a 25% stake. After its two-year battle with US regulators, and recent union hassles, he would have been praying for a successful inaugural flight. But the departure from New York’s JFK airport was delayed by an hour by storms, ruining a highly choreographed meeting with a second Virgin America flight, from LA, on the tarmac at San Fransisco airport.
Still, at least everything’s going well at Virgin Galactic. Oh, hang on…