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SBD Global/May 10, 2013/Media

BT To Offer EPL Broadcasts Free To Broadband Customers In Direct Challenge To Sky

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BT will show free Premier League football on TV for the first time.
BT will offer its new sports channels, including live Premier League football, "free to customers who take its broadband service as the telecom operator ramps up its challenge to BSkyB's dominance of U.K. pay-TV," according to Mark Sweney of the London GUARDIAN. BT "is aiming to lure customers to its fledgling TV service BT Vision and protect and grow its broadband customer base." BT is to offer the "free" channels to its broadband customers, who pay £15 ($23) a month, "regardless of whether they take their TV service from rivals including BSkyB." Non-BT customers can pay from £12 ($18) to £15 a month for the sports channels (GUARDIAN, 5/9). REUTERS' Weir & Holton reported the news sent shares of BT and its rivals "tumbling in a sign of how nervous investors are that the telecom giant's commercial challenge could reshape the industry and slash profits." Shares in BSkyB fell 6.4%, and smaller broadband provider TalkTalk dropped 12% while BT was down 2.2%, wiping a collective £1.6B ($2.5B) "off the value of those three companies in under two hours" (REUTERS, 5/9).

COST CUTTING: BLOOMBERG's Amy Thomson reported BT said that it will offer the sports channels to clubs and pubs for prices about 80% cheaper than BSkyB’s services. BT is "also in talks to sell the channels in wholesale deals to Virgin Media Inc. and Talk Talk Telecom Group Plc." Panmure Gordon & Co. media analyst Alex DeGroote said, "BSkyB shares are going to get murdered and will have a significant weakness not only today but in the weeks and months to come. BT and Virgin Media are not Mickey Mouse little operators coming from left field. People may be turning away from Sky for the first time in ages" (BLOOMBERG, 5/9). In London, Prynn & Spanier wrote BT "audaciously threw down the gauntlet to bitter rival Sky." Its' broadband customers who pay £15 a month for its “superfast” fibre-optic service or £10 ($15) a month for the slower “copper wire” version will get access to 38 live broadcasts of Premier League matches a season. This compares with up to £42.50 ($65.88) a month Sky subscribers will have to pay to watch 116 games. However, new BT customers "will need to buy a TV set-top box," paying up to £299 ($464). Alternatively, they can get the box free if they pay an extra £5 ($7.75) a month "for a basic TV package with other entertainment channels" (EVENING STANDARD, 5/9). In London, Nic Fildes reported BT said too many customers are “squeezed out” of live sports as they refuse to pay a large premium. BT Sports CEO Marc Watson said, "This is the first time in history that live Premier League matches will be available for free" (LONDON TIMES, 5/9).

CHANGES IN BOOTH: Also in London, Nick Pearce reported former England striker Michael Owen "will go straight from the pitch to the commentary box" after BT Sport announced that "he would be a co-commentator for their Premier League coverage" beginning next season. Owen, who is set to retire from football at the end of Stoke City's Premier League campaign, "will work alongside BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Darren Fletcher for live games." Joining the pair on the new channel is Premier League referee Mark Halsey, who "will work on the commentary team across the channel's football coverage." In the studio as pundits will be ex-England internationals Owen Hargreaves, Steve McManaman and David James, while Jake Humphrey and Ray Stubbs "will also be on screen for BT's 38 live Premier League games" (TELEGRAPH, 5/9). The MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS reported ManU defender Rio Ferdinand "has been signed up as a football expert" with BT. The company hopes the signing of Ferdinand "will help lure customers to sign up for BT Sport, which will also include live football from Italy, France, Germany, Brazil and the U.S., as well as the FA Cup, the Scottish Premier League and the Europa League" (MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, 5/9). The London GUARDIAN reported Ferdinand tweeted that he "was not about to step down from the day job" at ManU. Ferdinand tweeted, "Do not mention the word retirement on my timeline please people … that word is not welcome here!" (GUARDIAN, 5/9).
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