New owner of Britain’s TV masts vows to keep channels on air despite streaming threat

·2 min read
arqiva digital 9 freeview tv broadcast
arqiva digital 9 freeview tv broadcast

The monopoly owner of Britain's TV and radio masts will keep broadcasts on air for at least a decade despite the threat from streaming companies, its new biggest shareholder has said.

London-listed investment Trust Digital 9 Infrastructure has paid £459.3m for a 48pc voting stake in Arqiva, the monopoly broadcaster of digital freeview TV and radio channels.

It followed years of uncertainty over Arqiva’s future after it abandoned a £6bn float in 2017 and sold off its mobile masts business two years later. The move values Arqiva at just under £1bn, well below the £2.5bn that the company was reported to be seeking last year.

The company’s broadcasting business now makes up the majority of its revenues, but viewers’ rapid shift to internet streaming has prompted questions over its longevity.

Thor Johnsen, Digital 9’s fund manager, said Arqiva would continue to broadcast TV and radio stations for “the long term” and easily for more than a decade.

“I can’t put a date on it but ultimately we see it has a long road to go,” he said. “The thing that people forget is not everyone can afford modern internet connectivity let alone a streaming service. For the value that they provide this is the most cost-effective way of providing that content delivery, and the most energy-effective way as well.”

Mr Johnsen added: “People often overlook the parts of society that still rely on that as their primary means of media content.” He said he saw no scenario in which Arqiva, which has a growing network business for internet-connected infrastructure such as smart water meters, is broken up.

Digital 9, which is run by the UK investment manager Triplepoint but listed in London last year, bought the stake from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board which acquired it in 2009. Other current investors include the Australian bank Macquarie, which led a 2004 acquisition of Arqiva and loaded it with debt.

The sale of its telecoms mast business in 2019 was partly an effort to ease its heavy debt burden. Arqiva has 1,450 broadcast transmission sites in the UK including Emley Moor, a concrete spire in Yorkshire that is the country’s tallest freestanding structure. A fire at the company’s nearby Bilsdale site last year left 500,000 people without TV or radio signals.

The company’s chief executive Paul Donovan, who cut around a third of its 1,500-strong workforce in 2020, recently stepped down and was replaced by chief commercial officer Shuja Khan.

Arqiva’s revenue dipped from £677.5m to £642.3m in the year to June 2021 while operating profits fell 25pc to £138.5m. It is hoping to expand its internet of things business and pursue growth in areas such as satellite broadband, where it has an infrastructure agreement with Elon Musk’s Starlink.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting