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SBD Global/October 31, 2013/Media

BT Sport Takes Sober Tone When Talking About Daunting Task Of Competing With Sky

There is a definite shift in tone at BT Sport in advance of the company's results this week, at which it will update shareholders on its £1B ($1.6B) sporting bet and reveal how many subscribers BT Sport "has gained among those existing customers who can access it for free and others paying" up to £15 ($24) per month,  according to Owen Gibson of the London GUARDIAN. The bullish bravado from the eve of the launch "has vanished, to be replaced by a more sober, cautious appreciation of the challenge ahead in competing with Sky Sports." BT, which shelled out £738M for 38 Premier League matches per season including 18 "first-picks, has not brought in appreciably bigger audiences than the previous rights holder ESPN, despite paying almost three times as much for its rights package." BT Sport Head Simon Green insisted that "he is happy with the numbers and believes Jake Humphrey and co are making headway in building the Saturday lunchtime audience, traditionally a tougher time to attract viewers who may be on their way to sporting events or doing other things." Green: "The audience we've got, I'm delighted with. Achieving what ESPN did with [its] better time slot and as good a run of games, is success in my mind." BT "has signed up one million customers to its sports channels, but many of those will be getting them free." Last weekend, it made Arsenal's victory at Crystal Palace "free to all viewers in a bid to encourage sampling." It is trumpeting the fact that its channels "have averaged 28,700 viewers so far, 95% higher than ESPN's at the same stage last season." In all, 6.6 million "have tuned in at one point or other." Yet all this "scrapping over the viewing habits of a few thousand viewers obscures the bigger picture." In a speech to the Leaders in Football conference, BT CEO Gavin Patterson "highlighted the importance of its sports broadcasting operation in strategic terms." It is on that basis that BT's gamble "will be judged" (GUARDIAN, 10/29).
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