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Virgin nets a key deal with Disney's ESPN

David Hellier
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ESPN, the Disney-owned media group that has picked up live Premier League football rights from the defunct Setanta, yesterday agreed a carriage deal with Virgin Media, the cable company.<br /><br />The deal is similar to Virgin&rsquo;s previous deal with Setanta, whereby Virgin customers paying for the highest television package will get the channel, which will show 46 live matches, free.<br /><br />As well as Premier League matches, the new channel will also show live matches from Scotland.<br /><br />Virgin subscribers on lower priced television packages can add ESPN for &pound;10 a month if they do not already subscribe to Sky Sports and &pound;8 a month if they do.<br /><br />Satellite operator BSkyB recently announced a deal whereby its nine million subscribers can add ESPN to their package for &pound;9 if they are Sky Sports subscribers and for &pound;12 if they are not.<br /><br />Top-Up TV, which provides pay television services to Freeview customers, is expected to add ESPN to its offering shortly, as is BTVision.<br /><br />Neither Top-Up TV nor BT Vision currently offer the Sky Sports channels, which own the rights to the majority of live Premier League matches in the UK, making them less attractive propositions for football fans. Both would like to do so but can not reach agreeable terms with BSkyB.<br /><br />Ofcom is currently looking into BSkyB&rsquo;s dominance of the pay television market. Its consultation period finishes on 18 September.<br /><br />Virgin Media declined to give details of the financial arrangements of the deal but it is believed that ESPN will have negotiated a mimium payment from the cable group along the lines of the deal that was reached with Setanta. Virgin found the Setanta deal helped reduce the number of customers cancelling contracts.