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Volume 6 No. 213
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BT Sport Kicks Off English Premier League Football Coverage To Audience Of 764,000

The first live EPL football match shown by BT was watched by a peak audience of 764,000 viewers, "marking a respectable start to its attempt to challenge Sky's 20-year dominance of live sports" in the U.K., according to Daniel Thomas of the FINANCIAL TIMES. The opening match of the season between Liverpool and Stoke City was shown exclusively by BT Sport on Saturday, "providing an immediate test of the telecom group's ability to win viewers in a big-budget battle for football fans with Sky." According to figures compiled by Barb, the official source of TV viewing figures in the U.K., "the game attracted the peak viewing audience of 764,000, and a match average of 629,000." This "was more than the 713,000 who watched ESPN's opening game of last season between Newcastle and Tottenham," although less than the equivalent match shown by Sky at 12:45pm last season between Swansea and West Ham that drew 843,000 at its peak (FT, 8/18).

FIRST DAY JITTERS: In London, Nick Harris wrote at the BT Sport studios in Olympic Park, east London, there was "a nervous excitement around the place only partly related to the new kids on the football broadcasting block kicking off the Premier League season by showing their first live Premier League game." In one sense it is a match worth £6,473,684 ($10,125,489) -- "because that is how much BTS have paid for each one of their 38 live top-flight games per season between now and the end" of the '15-16 season. That is £738M ($1.15B) "for 114 games." In another sense it is "worth a long way north" of £1B ($1.5B). BT "will spend that and a lot more on building a sports broadcasting venture they hope can challenge Sky as the dominantly brilliant incumbent in the pay-TV market" (DAILY MAIL, 8/17).

A GOOD START: Also in London, Des Lynam opined it was only 1-0, but as BT commentator Michael Owen said "at the end of BT's first live Premier League match, it was a great opening to the season." BT Sport execs "will have been mightily relieved." What they desperately did not need "was a boring goalless draw." Presenter Jake Humphrey, "who looks as though he is going to be studio-bound for the season," began the program with "Time to welcome back top-flight football and savor it -- together." In the studio was former Stoke Manager Tony Pullis, Owen Hargreaves and Steve McManaman. The proven Ian Darke, once of the BBC and more recently Sky and ESPN, "provided the perfectly competent match commentary." Owen, despite his rather monotone delivery, "was excellent." He was informative, knowledgable "and prepared to say what he thought." So, "a decent start for BT's coverage of the Premier League." The most important thing "is to not miss anything important visually and have a clear and accurate commentary" (TELEGRAPH, 8/17). In London, Kevin McKenna wrote BT Sport claims that "its studio is the biggest in the world and attempted to deploy it to its full extent." Liverpool vs. Stoke is not a fixture upon which you can construct an empire, "but BT still gave it the FA Cup Final treatment." There was broadcaster Ray Stubbs "giving us a guided tour of the Anfield dressing-room." And there too were the Liverpool players disembarking from the team bus, "all studied nonchalance and fixed stares." Sky, meanwhile, "has merely added some nips and tucks to a package that is already magisterial." Its coverage of Swansea City vs. ManU "was contained within an almighty football express" that has seen it go all "Top Gear" with a live studio audience. When "the curtain rose on this orgy of football, it had already been on air seven hours," starting with "Soccer AM" (GUARDIAN, 8/17).

CASUAL APPROACH: Also in London, Barry Glendenning opined "where suits and ties tend to be de rigueur on Sky, the BT Sport dress code was less formal," with anchor Humphrey looking casual as he chaired a panel of Pulis, Hargreaves and McManaman, "who all seemed convivial, relaxed and at ease" in loose, open-necked shirts before the much vaunted "central hub" and its dot matrix monitors that is the centerpiece of BT Sport's preposterously massive studio. Obviously feeling compelled to raise its game by its new noisy neighbors, Sky's response was quickfire in the form of "Saturday Night Football," "a show that did exactly what it said on the tin and more," despite appearing to think it was "Top Gear," but with football instead of cars (GUARDIAN, 8/17). In London, Kevin Garside wrote Liverpool vs. Stoke "was not a game worthy of the red carpet." Humphrey and fellow cast members "were caught between rolling out the big BT Sport proposition and maintaining credibility; not easy with this canvas." Ultimately "this is about commerce not football." Sport "is merely the instrument with which to attract or keep customers in the hugely profitable telecommunications business." BT "wants you to pay them, not Sky for all your phone/broadband/digital/broadcast provision." It is in the interests of all "that BT Sport succeeds where Setanta and ESPN failed." Not only does its introduction broaden the product base, "it forces a reaction from the principal provider of live football in Britain" (INDEPENDENT, 8/18).

EPL ONLINE: In Auckland, Steven Holloway wrote Kiwi football fans got their first taste of Saturday night "and the new online broadcasting platform received mixed reviews around the country." Coliseum stunned New Zealand's sport broadcasting market by securing the EPL rights from Sky in June, and CEO Tim Martin said that "he was very satisfied with their opening night." Thousands of fans "fired up their computers" to watch Liverpool kick off the season against Stoke at 11:30pm and Twitter "was quickly awash with praise, scrutiny and questions about the new service" (NEW ZEALAND HERALD, 8/18).