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).