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Warner Bros Discovery/BT JV ‘will increase competition in the UK sports rights market’

"The financial resources of the business would certainly allow it to invest more in Premier League packages at the time of the next tender," analyst Dan Harraghy tells TVBEurope

With the news that Warner Bros Discovery and BT have entered into a joint venture, analysts believe the new player could easily disrupt the UK’s current broadcast market.

The BT Sport joint venture (JV) will be shared between the two companies, with each party holding equal voting rights.

BT surprised the industry earlier this year when it announced it was exploring a joint venture with Discovery (as it was then). Dan Harraghy, senior analyst at Ampere Analysis, tells TVBEurope he’s not surprised the company has opted for the partnership instead on an outright sale. “The joint venture allows BT to maintain its status as a strong number two in the UK sports broadcasting market,” he says, “with an opportunity to continue offering a sports package to its fixed line customer base.

“At a time when BT is looking to invest more in its broadband services to maintain its position as market leader, being able to provide valuable sports content as part of the bundle will be an attractive prospect for UK customers. At the same time, BT will receive payments from Warner Bros Discovery and be able to reduce its expenditure on sports rights in future, allowing the telco to invest more in other areas of the business.”

But with a major conglomerate behind it, could the new JV look to expand on BT’s current sports rights, including bidding for another Premier League package? “Premier League rights have been extended until the end of the 2024-2025 season,” states Harraghy. “Within this time, we are likely to get a clearer indication of the sports strategy of the new joint venture. The financial resources of the business would certainly allow it to invest more in Premier League packages at the time of the next tender. However, we may see the platform adopt a different, more opportunistic sports acquisition strategy if Warner Bros Discovery sees options to invest in alternative sports rights which may align better with the company’s wider content strategy.”

Ampere’s Sports Media rights data indicates that Sky’s investment in sport remains far greater than these other two broadcasters – Sky accounted for 54 per cent of spend on sports rights in the UK in 2021, compared with 26 per cent for BT Sport and Eurosport combined. “However, with the financial backing behind Warner Bros Discovery, this is an opportunity for the new venture to come closer to matching Sky’s investments and increasing competition in the UK market,” says Harraghy.

Media analyst Paolo Pescatore adds that while the joint venture strengthens Warner Bros Discovery’s sports offering, there are still other parties who could enter the UK sports broadcasting market. “Let’s not forget DAZN who lost out on acquiring BT Sport,” he states.

“The new entity will need to strengthen their existing rights portfolio will they have the financial clout to secure additional Premier League matches. At least £1 billion is needed to retain its current position. It all depends on what happens with the renewal of the UEFA Champions/Europa league. DAZN will be sniffing around to bolster its ailing UK based service.”

The deal is good news for viewers though, as customers who access BT Sport through BT directly, and the majority of BT TV customers, will receive discovery Plus as part of their existing subscriptions, and that could lead to the JV having a sizeable impact on the UK broadcasting market as a whole.

“Sky will see HBO content leave the service in 2025 when the existing licensing deal expires and Warner Bros Discovery launches D2C platform HBO Max. The joint venture certainly has the potential and capacity to compete across all areas of the entertainment business,” adds Harraghy.

“The combination of BT Sport and Eurosport content will lead to a reduction in fragmentation for UK viewers at a time when fans continue to require more and more subscriptions to watch all their favourite competitions,” he says. “Being able to continue combining a sports subscription with a BT broadband package is also likely to reduce costs, while the potential for sport and entertainment bundles will also be an attractive prospect for UK viewers.”