Some of football’s most recognisable faces turned out at BT Sport’s facility at the Olympic Park in London yesterday, as the broadcaster made a series of announcements, including the launch of what will be the UK's first UHD channel, BT Sport Ultra HD.
BT Sport anchor Jake Humphrey opened the event, which would outline “the next phase of BT Sport”, which focused on “giving sport back to the people”. This line was repeated by John Petter, chief executive of BT's consumer business, who described how “for over 20 years too many people in this country have had to pay too much to see televised sport.”
BT Sport’s solution? All 351 UEFA Champions League and Europa League matches from the next season will be free for customers who take BT TV. However, BT Broadband customers who choose to watch on their Sky service, via the BT Sport App or on BT Mobile will be charged £5 per month to add the BT Sport Pack. Customers entirely new to the service will be charged a monthly fee and line rental, as well as an activation fee, for broadband, a set-top box and the BT Sport package.
The only entirely free-to-watch matches will be screened on BT Sport Showcase, a new channel available on digital TV, which will show a minimum of 12 UEFA Champions League matches and 14 UEFA Europa League matches. ITV lost its rights to broadcast the games – which it shared with Sky – in 2013. At this time football fans had been able to enjoy a greater of number of Champions League and Europa matches than currently promised on BT Sport Showcase, completely free of charge.
Petter insisted, “we’re bringing premium sport to a whole new, much bigger audience,” and continued: “BT Sport is taken today by more than 5.2 million households and of those, more than two million have never taken a premium sport package.” He also promised that BT Sport brings more “audience diversity”, attracting more younger viewers, “more people from less well-off households” and more viewers from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, “than other sports broadcasters.”
The big news centred on the launch of the new BT Sport Ultra HD channel, slated for August, and the introduction of its a new BT TV Ultra HD set-top box. “Ultra HD is going to take a serious role in the future of broadcasting” asserted Delia Bushell, managing director of BT TV and Sport. The Ultra HD channel will be exclusive to BT TV, and customers will need BT Infinity to access it. The set-top box is “faster, better, and has more storage space than ever before”, said Bushell. From August, the channel will screen a range of matches across Champions League, Premier League and Aviva Premiership Rugby.
The BT Sport studio has also been upgraded, with investment in “ground-breaking new augmented reality sets and digital analytics” according to Bushell. Accompanying the new studio will be a range of new presenting talent: Gary Lineker, Jake Humphrey and Rio Ferdinand will front the live UEFA Champions League coverage, joining the BT Sport team which includes Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, Steve McManaman and Owen Hargreaves, as well as new signings Steven Gerrard, Harry Redknapp, Glenn Hoddle and Howard Webb.
The developments mark “a major new chapter in BT Sport”, which was celebrated by the broadcasting team yesterday. It also marks a new chapter in fans’ access to football matches, and for many this will come at a cost.