New sports channels go live in three heavyweight economic markets
Although many countries around the world continue to face economic challenges, the pay-television sector had held up robustly, with market leaders maintaining strong subscriber numbers and investing in new channels as live sport maintains its appeal for platform operators and viewers across multiple devices.
BT, the powerful UK telecommunications company, launched new sports channels this year after surprising many with its swoop for rights to English soccer’s Premier League, and is striving to tackle British Sky Broadcasting’s longheld market dominance.
Across the Atlantic, Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox has launched new Fox Sports channels as it looks to establish itself as a competitor to Walt Disney’s ESPN. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera, the ambitious Qatar-based broadcaster, has partnered with the MP & Silva agency in southeast Asia to launch ‘beIN Sport’ channels, initially in Indonesia, as it seeks to unlock the potential of a huge economy and a public hungry for European soccer content.
BT launched its new BT Sport channels in the UK and Ireland this summer in what has been viewed as the strongest challenge so far to the market superiority enjoyed by BSkyB.
After ITV Digital, Setanta and ESPN all failed to mount a sustained challenge to BSkyB, BT landed in the UK pay-television market with its existing broadband and telephone businesses and significant investment in sports rights, principally for the Premier League and English rugby union’s Aviva Premiership.
Armed with rights to 38 live Premier League matches per season under a £246-million-per-year deal, BT laid down the gauntlet to BSkyB by opting to make its channels available ‘free’ of charge to existing broadband subscribers (who pay from £15 a month regardless of whether they take their television services from other companies).
The BT Sport 1 and BT Sport 2 channels went live on August 1, along with an ESPN- branded channel (after BT bought ESPN’s UK and Ireland television business), and BT’s Premier League coverage kicked off on August 17 with live coverage of the opening match between Liverpool and Stoke City, attracting an average audience of 629,000 viewers.
The access to the new sports channels at no extra cost to BT broadband customers allowed BT Sport to announce shortly after its launch that it had breached the 1-million subscriber mark in the three months since it began accepting subscriptions in May. On the eve of the Premier League season, BT finally negotiated a key carriage deal with cable operator Virgin Media, enabling BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN to be available to a further 2 million customers as they were included in Virgin’s XL television package.
In addition to the Premier League, the soccer content on the three BT channels includes England’s FA Cup, the Scottish Premiership, Europe’s Uefa Europa League, Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A, France’s