Taking on Sky is a risky Vision for BT

David Hellier
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INthe run up to the new football season there is a fascinating encounter taking place off the field as BT Vision tries to take on the might of BSkyB in the showing of live football.

BT Vision, boosted by a ruling from the regulator on the price that Sky can sell its sports channels to its rivals, is offering football fans a package of just £6.99 to access live football (actually one of Sky’s channels).

BT is losing money on each package but it hopes to draw new customers in who will then buy its broadband and telephone services.

It isn’t a comprehensive package and, as Sky gleefully points out, it isn’t in High Definition, but it is the cheapest entry point for football fans. BT hopes there is a large enough band of people out there that want to see live football but who don’t want to spend the £20 plus a month that Sky and Virgin Media charge for the privilege.

BT Vision customers can pay extra for another Sky Sports channel and they can also get access to ESPN’s channel. But their deal with Sky does not include its Sports Channels 3 and 4 or its increasingly popular Sky Sports News. BT Vision’s marketing focuses naturally on the cheaper entry point, while Sky hammers home to would-be BT customers (including potential defectors) what they would not get with the BT Vision package.

The whole episode reminds me of previous attempts to take on Sky in the world of televised sports.

ITV Digital (Rest In Peace) tried to compete with Sky with a package of non Premier League football and failed to make ends meet. The consequences were dire for the football clubs who negotiated deals with ITV Digital that were not honoured.

And more recently the Irish group Setanta took on the Mighty Sky with a package of Premier League games that were most often the ones that Sky didn’t want.

Setanta provided a decent enough package but failed to attract the numbers necessary to make profits and it really came a cropper when it started to bid against Sky for international matches that Sky probably did want.

Bidding against Sky, Setanta ended up paying top dollar for these matches and ultimately
it crashed.

BT Vision, a subsidiary of the much larger BT, has got big pockets. But its board will surely want to see some encouraging signs at an early stage to persuade it that this is a battle BT Vision has a hope of surviving.

The nominations are now in, so we have been busy putting together a short-list for CityA.M.’s inaugural awards in October.

As journalists, we’re more accustomed to spotting deals that go wrong or chief executives who fail, (the definition of a news story, I was forever told, was something new and interesting that somebody didn’t want published) so it’s been an uplifting experience to focus on City people who have excelled.

The timetable now entails an unveiling of the short-list in both the paper and on the web site towards the end of August. Our high powered panel of judges will then meet in October ahead of the awards ceremony on October 27. There are still tables available for what should be an exciting occasion and there is further information on the cityamawards.com web site.

Allister Heath is away