FIRST blood was drawn by Manchester United against bitter rivals Chelsea in the new football season last weekend.
But a battle of equally epic proportions is heating up off the pitch, with BT claiming its new sports package, which is significantly undercutting Sky, is building momentum.
BT Vision chief executive Marc Watson told City A.M. the number of subscribers to its Sky Sports 1 and 2 offering is increasing exponentially as the start of the league approaches.
“We don’t report numbers but the volume of subscribers is building as we get closer,” he said. “We have a good mix of new and existing customers signing up.”
The move into Premier League football is the most significant yet by the former state telecoms provider to stem the flow of customers leaving its services to join Sky.
With BT charging well below the wholesale price levied by the broadcaster, it will actually make a loss on every customer who signs up, relying on revenue from services such as broadband and fixed line phone to absorb the impact.
But Watson insists the move is vital for BT to become a major player in the TV market. “This is far from a short-term strategy,” he said. “If we want to succeed we have to be able to measure our customers in millions, not thousands. We’re very confident this is the right thing to do. It is all about having the full spectrum of services and we believe this puts BT on a great footing.”
Commentators, however, are not so sure. Ian Watt, analyst with Enders Analysis, said: “It is a brave, aggressive move but unfortunately for BT, Sky is one of the most formidable players in the pay-TV space anywhere in the world. It will take more than a cheap Sky Sports package for BT to catch up with it.”