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BT to offer free Premier League football

May 9, 2013

By Colin Mann

Marc Watson at the launch event

Confirming earlier speculation, BT has revealed that customers to its broadband packages – not just its superfast BT Infinity product – will receive free English Premier League football when the telco launches its BT Sport channels in time for the start of the 2013-14 season. The telco also revealed it had reached agreement with BSkyB for its DTH satellite customers to continue to receive its channels. A deal for carriage on Virgin Media’s broadband cable network has not yet been agreed.

Speaking at the launch of the service at BT Sport’s base in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, Marc Watson, BT Retail Chief Executive, said that the telco was returning sport to grassroots fans. The initiative marks the first time in more than 20 years that weekly live matches from the Barclays Premier League will be free to watch.

The three channels – BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN – will feature 38 live and exclusive football matches from the Barclays Premier League – including 18 ‘first pick’ matches – and up to 69 live rugby matches from the Aviva Premiership where BT will be the sole and exclusive broadcaster. There will be live football from several other top leagues around the world including Germany, France, Italy and Brazil. There will also be FA Cup ties, the UEFA Europa League, Scottish Premier League plus WTA women’s tennis and action from the UFC.

BT also revealed it has added Moto GP, Women’s Super League football, Australian ‘A’ league football and action sport and lifestyle programming from Red Bull Media House.

BT’s aim is to increase the number of customers enjoying high quality sports on TV. Only one in five UK homes currently take a sports channel, possibly due to the high prices that have resulted from there being little real competition.

By offering BT Sport for free with BT broadband, BT hopes to appeal to the vast majority of UK homes – more than 20 million – who already have broadband as well as those who haven’t taken it to date. More than five million homes already take their broadband from BT and whilst the company will be rewarding those loyal customers with this great free service, it will also be encouraging customers of other ISPs to switch supplier.

To encourage people to switch, BT is offering new customers BT Infinity, its flagship superfast fibre product, from just £15 per month or copper broadband from just £10.

If customers wish to take the channels without BT broadband, they will be available in high definition for £15 per month from BT via Sky’s digital satellite platform or for £12 in standard definition.

Ian Livingston, BT chief executive said: “UK Sports fans have had a rough deal for too long. Many have been priced out of the market but we will change this by giving away BT Sport for free with our broadband. Sports fans are the winners today. BT is the home of broadband so the fight for customers will now take place on our own turf. BT Sport will complement our world class fibre network. Customers don’t have to take BT Infinity to get BT Sport but we are encouraging them to move onto fibre broadband so they can enjoy the best of both worlds.”

Gavin Patterson, BT Retail chief executive described the launch of BT Sport as “an important moment” for the UK TV market. “We will shake up the market which is great news for sports fans whether their passion is football, rugby or any of the other sports we will be showing. Fans will hopefully be cheering across the UK at the prospect of watching their favourite teams for free,” he predicted.

BT Sport will be easily accessible direct from BT. It will be available via BT’s own TV service, Sky’s digital satellite platform and also online or via a new App enabling customers to enjoy the channels on the move or at home on their PCs, smartphones, tablets etc.

Customers who wish to watch BT Sport on their TVs will require a set-top box. This will be a YouView or Vision+ box for BT TV customers or a Sky box if customers take the channels via Sky’s digital satellite platform.

BT’s TV service will be delivered live over fibre broadband in more than half the country with those customers having the option of receiving the channels in HD for just £3 per month, a cost that will be waived for a year if they sign up before August 1. BT Sport will also be available across the UK via TV aerials to customers with a Vision+ box. BT TV customers who take a basic TV package from BT will receive their set top box for free.

Customers taking BT Sport via Sky’s digital satellite platform will be able to access the three channels with just one call to BT, making it very convenient for customers who want to take sports content from both BT and Sky. There will be no requirement for customers to take a Sky TV subscription of any kind as BT Sport will be retailed by BT.

Satellite customers who take BT broadband will get BT Sport for free, whilst those who don’t can still get the service from BT in high definition for £15 per month or in standard definition for £12. BT will make it clear to those customers they can save substantial sums by switching their broadband back to BT. Satellite customers who sign up before August 1 2013 will see the £3 per month supplement for HD waived for a year.

Watson also revealed that BT Sport swould be aggressively targeting the ‘pubs and clubs’ market, suggesting that screening of free-to-air sport in that sector was 1.5 times greater than for premium events. He suggested that establishments taking BT Sport packages could achieve savings of  up to 80 per cent over Sky.

In terms of carriage on Virgin Media, Patterson said that BT was open to wholesale deals, but no such agreement was yet in place. “It’s not a philosohical issue,” he said.

BT currently has two Sky Sports channels on the Freeview DTT platform, with customers to those services being transitioned to other means of distribution when the current rights deal expires at the end of the 2012-13 football season.

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