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BT Sport: Pushing to be first

Sunday’s IBC 10:00-11:00 Keynote is guaranteed to make headlines way beyond the Forum. Delia Bushell, BT TV and BT Sport’s MD is the star speaker, and such is the interest in BT’s pay-TV plans, not least its determination to highlight Ultra HD in some of its offering, that a full house is guaranteed.

BT has made some spectacular headlines these past few weeks. First up, of course, is its increasingly determined battle with Sky for exclusive TV sports rights. Paying £7.6 million per match for its England Premier League coverage, plus the costs of covering the event (whether in HD or UHD) and the commensurate commentary and other ancillary costs is not for the faint-hearted! BT Sport already controls coverage of the Champions League and Europa League action for at least the next three seasons.

Then BT itself offered up a massive £12.5 billion to buy back into cellular and acquire the EE operation (and the UK’s biggest cellular player), and permitting it to capture wireless loyalty – and deliver content to handhelds and tablets. All of its rivals have grumbled about market domination and the hold that BT has over its ‘Openreach’ division.

And as if the soccer deals were not enough, earlier this year BT moved even more cheekily onto Sky’s turf by signing a seven-year deal with ESPN to show the US broadcaster’s content on BT Sport. The deal sees BT Sport gain access to 5,000 hours of ESPN programming per year, including some very tempting sports content and even documentary shows.

There was worse to come in the form of BT TV’s agreement in June to bring the extremely popular AMC channel to its YouView platform about now. AMC is the home of massively popular shows such as The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and the critically successful Mad Men. Not all of these shows will appear just yet, but BT/AMC will bring over its Fear the Walking Dead spin-off, and is promising plenty more original content to come. Moreover, this sort of high-profile material once went – almost automatically – onto one or the other Sky channels.

BT TV and BT Sport are themselves changing the British broadcasting paradigm. Not that they have the field totally to themselves. Sky is a seasoned player which has seen off plenty of challengers over the years. And then there are the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and any number of other challengers seeking viewer loyalty and disrupting the traditional pay-TV models.

In other words there’s plenty for Bushell to talk about! BT is by any measure beginning to look very much like a ‘full service’ 21st Century telco, operating at multiple levels, capturing and creating content, beginning to produce its own programming especially where sport is concerned. Bushell’s focus is very much on TV and how the broadcasting pay-TV model fits within its overall business plan.