When the EU announced that in future there would be no exclusive TV coverage of the Premiership, the cat was set amongst the pigeons.
The EU edict is that Premiership TV coverage must be broken into six packages of 23 games. These packages will not differ in terms of importance of games, but will be randomly selected. No one broadcaster can have the rights to all six, so we know that from 2007, the BSkyB monopoly of Premiership TV coverage will be over. And yesterday was the day the bids had to be in.
But the BSkyB dominance is not just under threat from EU regulation. The new breed of new media broadcasters, the likes of BT and NTL with its quadruple play offering, could soon mount a credible threat to the hegemony of the Murdoch TV empire.
For BSkyB, Premiership coverage was a kind of Trojan Horse. It paid out just over $1bn for its current rights in 2003. No doubt viewers had their BSkyB dishes installed in their hundreds of thousands as a result, and formed a new captive audience for the company’s other channels.
But today, it’s BT and NTL who need the Trojan Horse. NTL, which recently acquired Virgin Mobile, and merged with Telewest, plans to offer a quadruple play option of TV, Broadband Internet access, and both fixed line and mobile telephony. It’s the combination of Cable TV, TV over the net, and now over mobile phones that make the possibility of the company bidding for soccer rights a possibility. If it wins any one of the six packages, it will probably be marketed under the name of Virgin Sport.
Some analysts argue that the NTL four play package is irrelevant; that mobile phone usage is a personal decision, and the other three packages relate more to the family. But, the contrary argument is that it will give the company extra justification for purchasing high quality premium content.
BT too has its plans. With Broadband getting faster, the reality of live TV coverage approaches, and BT will soon be launching its TV package which will be combined with Freeview to offer additional services over the Internet, including premium films and presumably sport, and repeats of programmes shown on Freeview.
With the likes of Carphone Warehouse launching their cut price free phone calls and broadband for £20 per month service, BT needs content to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack.
For all that, BSkyB remains the favourite to pick up the lions share of the premiership booty, and the company which some experts think will win the rest is pay TV company, Setanta, which recently agreed a £54.5mn deal for TV converage of the Scottish Premier League.
For our money this is a good test for BT and NTL. The credibility of their bids, regardless of whether they actually win, will give us a better idea of how serious their challenge in the wider TV market is.
© Investment & Business News 2013