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Britain's BT Sport launched its sports TV service on Thursday "in the biggest challenge to the dominance of BSkyB since Rupert Murdoch launched the pay-TV group over 20 years ago," according to Weir & Holton of REUTERS. The former telecom monopoly, which has committed around £1B ($1.5B) to the project, stepped into an arena "where others have failed, invariably outmanoeuvred by BSkyB in the battle for programming and subscribers." But the deep-pocketed, 168-year-old BT has learned "from the master." While the battle over sports rights grabs the headlines, "the underlying struggle is for supremacy in the triple play market" -- the bundling of TV, telephone and broadband. Liberum analyst Ian Whittaker said, "This is all about broadband. BT are not in this to get a new stream of revenues, what they're in this for is to persuade their customers not to churn (switch) to Sky on broadband" (REUTERS, 7/31). In London, Daniel Thomas wrote BT’s "audacious attempt to win over big-spending sports fans from Sky" began with coverage of a friendly between Man City and Bayern Munich, the "first chance to see if it can muster a credible challenge" to Sky. Whatever the outcome, "the clash of these two titans of British media and telecoms will make great viewing either way. Neither can afford to lose the contest given how much money has been spent on the rights to show exclusive events" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 8/1). In London, Owen Gibson wrote BT TV CEO Marc Watson said that the new channel's output should not be judged on the first day alone, when it will be broadcast free for anyone with Freeview, TV from BT or Sky, "but admitted it was a crucial moment for the company." Watson said, "We take a long-term view of this. Perceptions of the company are changing, they have been changing for a while and BT Sport has accelerated that." In a bid to overshadow BT's launch, Sky is "going live to all 92 clubs on Thursday." Sky Sports News exec editor Andy Cairns said that "the aim was to capture a snapshot of English football on the eve of the Football League kick-off" (GUARDIAN, 7/31). The PA's Martyn Ziegler wrote "BT Sport's crown jewels are the 38 live Premier League matches" that it paid £738M ($1.1B) for over three seasons -- "and in doing so has seen it emerge as a strong competitor to BSkyB." The BT channels "will also show live FA Cup games, Europa League matches, and live football from the top leagues in Germany, Italy, France and Scotland plus the FA Women's Super League." Away from football, "there will also be rugby union and women's tennis, plus MotoGP coverage from next year." Determined to protect its leadership of the broadband market, BT "is offering its sports service free to consumers who take its broadband." It has 6.8 million customers, "which includes some small businesses, compared with BSkyB's 4.9 million" (PA, 8/1).
A MOMENTOUS OCCASION: In London, Jonathan Liew wrote "as great sporting rivalries go, it may not quite have the same cachet as Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier." Nobody will tell their grandchildren that "they were there to watch Jake Humphrey issue his inaugural address." And yet, the much-anticipated debut of Britain's newest sports broadcaster from a purpose-built studio in London's Olympic Park "promises to be a momentous occasion in its own way." The stakes involved are astronomical: the pair paid more than £3B ($4.5B) between them "for the rights to show live Premier League football for the next three years." In reality, "supremacy is worth a lot more than that to both" (TELEGRAPH, 8/1). Also in London, Ben Rumsby wrote both Humphrey and broadcaster Michael Owen "have admitted to being nervous ahead of the big launch of BT." Humphrey: "In the first ad break, I’ll have a little scan through Twitter and I’ll see not just what people think of what I’ve done but just what people think of the program so far." Much like a top football team, "BT has put its faith in its star-studded line-up delivering on the big occasion, with Humphrey leading the way." BT and most of its viewers "will know what they are going to get from an experienced broadcaster like Humphrey." The real fascination, however, "surrounds how its rookies will fare, particularly Owen in the role of lead co-commentator." Owen, whose first game behind the microphone will be Steven Gerrard's testimonial on Saturday said, "There might be a few nerves there, I’m not sure" (TELEGRAPH, 8/1). BT's Tim Guest wrote BT Sport will also show all the live action from the match between Liverpool and Scottish champions Celtic at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Aug. 10, the friendly against Valerenga at the Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo, Norway on August 7 "and Steven Gerrard's testimonial against Olympiacos" on Saturday (BT).
BT will not be able to show Sky Sports channels on its new TV service after broadcasting regulator Ofcom rejected its attempt "to force a wholesale deal before the start of the Premier League season," according to Christopher Williams of the London TELEGRAPH. The decision means subscribers to BT’s YouView packages will not "be able to watch the majority of live televised football for the foreseeable future." BT had applied to Ofcom to "use its interim powers to force a deal before the first matches" on Aug. 17, arguing BSkyB was abusing its dominance of the market to damage a rival. Ofcom has not "rejected the complaint outright," but said Thursday it does not believe BT will be damaged enough to justify emergency action. It said that it "will not make a full decision for months and potentially not until next year" (TELEGRAPH, 8/1).
Media companies Mediapro and Prisa have "reached an agreement to end their war over football TV rights that threatened to interfere with the broadcast of La Liga games, which will start later in August," according to Ignacio del Castillo of EXPANSION. Prisa, which owns pay-TV channel Canal+, has paid Mediapro €88M plus VAT for payments that Canal+ failed to make in June and July. The agreement that Mediapro accepted "was proposed by Spanish Superior Sports Council (CSD) Secretary Miguel Cardenal" (EXPANSION, 7/31). FOOTBALL ESPANA reported Mediapro and Prisa "had to call in independent mediators" in the form of the Int'l Chamber of Commerce to resolve the disagreement over broadcast rights for the '12-13, '13-14 and '14-15 seasons. The agreement reached this week sees Canal+ permitted to broadcast all games in the Primera and Segunda Division for the next two seasons (FOOTBALL ESPANA, 8/1).
BARCELONA, REAL MADRID FEATURED: PR NOTICIAS reported thanks to the agreement, Canal+ will have "exclusive rights on Sundays to La Liga sides Real Madrid and Barcelona games, with a total of 22 broadcasts featuring one of those clubs, six more than last season." Canal+ will offer customers a package including eight games per weekend at a price of €16.95 ($22.43) per month. Three of the eight games, including one featuring Barcelona or Real Madrid, will be shown on Canal+'s Liga channel, with the remaining five weekend games airing on Canal+'s Liga 2 channel (PR NOTICIAS, 8/1).
German free-to-air TV channel RTL "recorded top ratings with its broadcast of the Audi Cup semifinal game between Bayern Munich and FC São Paulo on Wednesday," according to Manuel Weis of QUOTENMETER. An average of 4.55 million viewers tuned to watch the match, which started at 8:30pm local time. The number translated into a market share of 17.2%. In the target demographic 14-49, Bayern's 2-0 victory attracted 1.54 million viewers and obtained a 16.5% share. The second half of the game was watched by even more people as 5.42 million viewers tuned in. The second half received a 20.9% market share and a 18.8% share in the target demographic. The first Audi Cup semifinal between Man City and AC Milan aired on German news network n-tv shortly after 6pm. A total of 336,000 viewers tuned in to watch Man City's 5-3 victory. The number equaled a market share of 2.1% and 1.1% in the target demographic (QUOTENMETER, 8/1).
BARCELONA: QUOTENMETER's Daniel Sallhoff reported German public broadcaster ARD "recorded low ratings for its broadcast of the FINA World Championships in Barcelona." ARD's coverage from Barcelona "attracted a total of 930,000 viewers on Wednesday." The broadcast had a peak audience of 1.03 million viewers that translated into a market share of 7.8%. In the target demographic, the channel obtained a peak share of 3.7%. On Monday, ARD's broadcast also attracted only 960,000 viewers and a 5.4% market share (QUOTENMETER, 8/1).
German pay-TV channel Sky Sport News HD launched its first smartphone application on Thursday, according to Manuel Weis of QUOTENMETER. The app "will provide fans with up-to-date news from the world of sports." In addition to a "Clip of the Day" and various background stories, the app offers access to the channel's extensive statistics center. The application includes a video and audio livestream of Sky Sport News HD, highlight clips, short articles and breaking-news alerts covering a number of sports such as football, tennis, F1, golf, U.S. sports, volleyball, winter sports and Olympic Games. The video and audio livestream are part of the app's premium version and not available in the free version. If you want to access those features, Sky asks you to subscribe and pay €4.49 ($5.95) per month (QUOTENMETER, 8/1).
BBC commentator Mark Lawrenson has been axed as Match of the Day regular in a "shake-up of the BBC's flagship football programme." The BBC admitted Lawrenson "would have a reduced role on the 4 million-rated programme" starting next season after announcing its plans to breathe new life into the format (London TELEGRAPH, 8/1). ... Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt has been "immortalised in pixel form and is now a playable character" in phone app/video game Temple Run 2. Customers can buy the character for 69p ($1), with Bolt, decked out in his green and yellow kit, "also having abilities previously unavailable to the never-ending running game" (London DAILY MAIL, 8/1). ... A monthly half-hour magazine program covering all aspects of netball will be broadcast on South African TV channel SuperSport 4 in an initiative to "give netball more publicity." The series will "focus on development programmes and primary school netball, as well as the national team" (SAPA, 8/1).