Sunday 12 January 2020 12:07 pm

ITV holds talks with BT as it eyes Champions League broadcast rights

ITV is said to be in discussions with rival BT as it looks to secure broadcast rights to Champions League football matches.

The public service broadcaster is eyeing up a bid for a package of games held by the telecoms giant after losing out in an auction in November, the Sunday Times reported.

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In November BT forked out £1.2bn to retain the rights to the prestigious European competition, as well as the Europa League and the newly-formed Europa Conference League, until 2024.

The firm fended off competition from both ITV and Sky to win the contract, but is entitled to sell the rights on to a rival broadcaster.

A deal with ITV would see the Champions League return to terrestrial TV for the first time since 2015, when BT usurped joint holders ITV and Sky with a blockbuster bid.

It would also provide a welcome boost to ITV, led by Dame Carolyn McCall, which suffered a six per cent decline in viewing hours last year amid a growing shift to streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Major sporting events can provide a major fillip to viewing figures, with ITV pulling in almost 13m viewers during its coverage of the Rugby World Cup final.

ITV and BT tussled over the rights to FA Cup matches last year, with ITV emerging as the joint rights holder with the BBC from 2021.

But the two companies have also explored collaboration through a potential BT investment in Britbox, the joint streaming service launched last year by ITV and the BBC, and BT-owned EE is set to be the platform’s exclusive mobile partner.

Under chief executive Philip Jansen the telecoms giant has launched a three-year transformation plan in a bid to simplify its business and halt a steady decline in its share price.

While BT has reaped the rewards of its investment in high-profile sporting fixtures, it is also under fierce pressure to pump money into the rollout of full-fibre broadband across the UK.

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A return to terrestrial TV for the Champions League would come as deep-pocketed streaming services start to move into the sports market.

Amazon this season won the rights to stream 20 Premier League matches as it looks to break the stranglehold of Sky and BT over UK broadcasting rights.