O2 is a leading mobile phone brand now active in only two European markets of the UK and Germany. It was originally formed from the demerger of the European wireless businesses of UK operator BT in 2001. After several years of strong growth as an independent business it became the subject of multiple takeover bids in 2005, and was eventually acquired by Telefonica. It continues to operate as a distinct unit under the O2 name although it is now a full subsidiary of the Spanish group. It became the leading mobile operator in the UK towards the end of the 2000s after securing exclusive rights for several years to Apple's iPhone, before being overtaken by the newly created EE. The brand ventured into several smaller European markets in the 2000s, such as the Czech Republic and Ireland, but these remained comparatively insignificant, and were later sold. In 2013, O2 merged with rival German operator E-Plus to create the country's single biggest operator with around 43m customers. Two years later, a deal was agreed to sell O2 UK to smaller rival Hutchison 3. However, that arrangement faced significant regulatory hurdles, and was eventually blocked, with the result that O2 UK remains a unit of Telefonica. Germany and the UK are the #3 and #4 markets by revenues for Telefonica at €7.3bn and €6.8bn respectively in 2018. The vast majority of revenues are generated by mobile with only a small fixed line presence in both countries. The main O2 mobile service is partnered by low-cost brands GiffGaff in the UK and Blau in Germany.
Capsule checked 23rd January 2020
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Adbrands Weekly Update 12th Apr 2018: Ads of the Week: "Stay". How about this for a bold concept? A print ad in cinematic form, but hypnotically arresting in both sound and vision. Giffgaff is one of the UK's many challenger mobile brands. Ironically, given the content of the ad, it's owned by regional giant O2/Telefonica - they don't come much bigger than that in Europe - but Giffgaff has been allowed since launch to operate entirely independently from its parent. One such mark of independence has been brand director Tom Rainsford's insistence on doing his own thing when it comes to advertising, without using a big agency. But he picks his collaborators well. Here it's writing team Tom Evans & Olly Courtenay (known as big.small) and director Ed Morris, via prodco Rattling Stick. Morris, you'll remember, is a man who knows a thing or two about advertising from his former life at Lowe London in its heyday. But it's still the script that's the star. Fine work.
Adbrands Weekly Update 20th Apr 2017: Ads of the Week: "The Big Swim". New London creative boutique Who Wot Why makes a big splash with this attention-grabbing film for Giffgaff, the pay as you go arm of UK mobile provider O2. The agency was launched last year by a team of creatives ex Wieden & Kennedy London, CP&B and Dare with the aim of making work that is "talked about in the pub by people outside the industry". Their first major campaign looks set to do just that. Spectacular stuff.
Adbrands Weekly Update 27th Oct 2016: Ads of the Week: "The Music Box". Just in time for Halloween, here's an entertaining tale for O2's pay as you go mobile sideline GiffGaff. It's produced inhouse, written and directed by GiffGaff brand director Tom Rainsford, clearly a man with many strings to his bow. Sense, it makes none, but is nevertheless a highly entertaining mash-up of scary sequences, like a greatest hits compilation of the horror genre. Indulge yourself.
Adbrands Weekly Update 12th May 2016: As expected, EU regulators upheld the objections of their UK-based counterparts and blocked the proposed merger of mobile networks O2 and Hutchison Three. "Allowing Hutchison to take over O2 at the terms they proposed would have been bad for UK consumers and bad for the UK mobile sector. The remedies offered by Hutchison were not sufficient to prevent this." It is the latest development in the ongoing tug of war between state regulators and European mobile operators over consolidation. This ban now opens the way for alternative deals. Liberty Global, owner of Virgin Media in the UK as well as other European cable services, was quick to express its interest in O2. Any potential deal there would preserve the status quo of four major suppliers which regulators are so keen to preserve. Meanwhile, Three's owner Hutchison was said to be considering an approach to broadband service Talk Talk.
Adbrands Weekly Update 14th Apr 2016: British regulators put pressure on their EU counterparts to veto the proposed merger of O2 and Hutchison 3 in the UK. The UK Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) says the proposed concessions offered by Hutchison fall short of requirements, echoing earlier concerns voiced by telecoms watchdog Ofcom. The CMA opposes any consolidation that would reduce the number of mobile operators from four at present to three. Given the current sensitivity regarding "Brexit", the EU is unlikely to override British regulatory concerns. However, while regulators are opposed to the merger, industry insiders are broadly in favour. A common view is that failure to consolidate would be even worse, not better, for competition, since it will leave O2 and 3 as "lame duck" operators. According to market watcher Enders Analysis, "The economics of the industry are such that four operators isn't viable in the long term... If the 3-O2 deal doesn't go ahead, you'll have two weak players getting weaker and weaker over time." At the end of 2015, EE was the UK's leading operator with almost 32% share. O2 - which owner Telefonica wants to sell - had almost 30%, with Vodafone on 24% and 3 at 14%.
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