BT has announced details of its BT Sport channels, with aggressive pricing that promises to disrupt competition in the UK’s broadband as well as the pay-TV marketplaces.
BT is a global communications services provider, and, in the UK, a leading supplier of retail phone and broadband services. Through it’s Openreach division, it operates the local access network (last mile) for BT Retail and third-party operators.
In February 2013, BT acquired ESPN’s UK and Ireland TV channels business. These primarily comprise the ESPN and ESPN America channels and their live sports rights portfolio, including the FA Cup, Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa League and the German Bundesliga. The deal allows BT to continue to show a host of U.S. sports currently shown on ESPN America, including NCAA college basketball, NCAA college football and NASCAR.
BT Sport has previously announced rights to 38 live Barclays Premier League matches — including 18 of the top clashes in each of the next three seasons (beginning August 2013); 69 live Aviva Premiership Rugby matches for the next four seasons; and up to 800 hours per season of live women’s tennis, including the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships.
The surprise news was that the package of three channels will be free to domestic customers of BT broadband, copper and fiber. For 20 years, weekly live football (soccer) has been aired on subscription channels to UK viewers. This promises to disrupt the broadband market, with sports fans tempted to switch to BT for their broadband provision, and the subscription TV market, where Sky TV has dominated the sports TV provision with its subscription services.
For the avid sports fan this presents a dilemma: to get wall-to-wall coverage, they will have to subscribe to pay channels and use BT broadband, or if they don’t have BT broadband, pay an additional subscription to view on the Sky DTH platform.
It remains to be seen how other broadband providers like Talk Talk and the cable operator Virgin Media will respond to this challenge.
BT will supply the Sport TV package to bars, clubs and hotels at prices that undercut Sky, currently popular in sports bars. With many pubs struggling financially as public drinking patterns change, the attraction of a lower-cost package is bound to lead to switching.
BT enters the sports broadcasting business with a line-up of top sporting talent, with football legend Rio Ferdinand signing a three-year deal as interviewer, program-maker and football expert.
BT Sport is basing its operation at the old International Broadcast Centre (IBC) that was built for the 2012 London Olympics in the Queen Elizabeth Park in east London. After looking at Media City in Salford and Pinewood Studios, BT opted for the Olympics site as the best location for the new sports venture.
As one of the best-connected building on the planet, there is no shortage of in and outgoing fiber connections. The program makers have access to 150 incoming and outgoing circuits and will be linked directly to BT’s teleport at Madley, north of London.
The IBC is being converted as breakneck pace to meet the deadline for the start of the start of the football season in August in a build that started February. The installation, is being managed by Timeline Television, a provider of creative and technical services to broadcasters.
Systems integrator Megahertz is undertaking the installation, in a project that includes three studios and production offices. The original IBC design was not unlike an aircraft hangar, providing an ideal space to build studios.
Production facilities are based around a Harmonic MediaGrid server. EVS production servers and IP Director will be used for ingest and logging. Timeline have been instrumental in the widespread adoption of IP Director in the UK and have created some of the largest ever EVS IP Director networks for major tennis tournaments, political party conferences, and Football League coverage. Twenty edit bays are equipped with Avid Media Composer for craft editing. The 172 production desks will also have desktop editing facilities.
The studios use Sony HDC-2400 cameras and MVS-7000 switchers in a 1080p50 capable system. Calrec have supplied audio mixers, with Riedel studio communications. The largest studio (10,000sq-ft) has a capacity for a studio audience up 160 people.
Graphics are provided by Moov in a five-year deal to provide studio and post-production graphics to BT Sport. They will be using Chyron Axis cloud services and BlueNet, and the use of iMOOV, a new service that allows production teams to build and share graphics from anywhere on any web browser enabled device before sending to a studio playout or render engine.
BT Sport has a well-equipped studio complex but what does it mean?
Questions for broadband suppliers and broadcasters
The move by BT raises a number of questions:
1. How long can they pay for sports rights and production costs from what is effectively the marketing budget of their fiber broadband service (BT Infinity)? BT have very deep pockets, with revenue for Q1 2013 of £4.7 billion (~$7.3B), with profits and earning per share both up.
2. Do they have the expertise to run a sports broadcast operation up against the incumbent professionals?
3. Is this further blurring the divisions between a media delivery network and a channel operator?
The new operation is also another step away from terrestrial broadcasting. It is to be delivered over broadband to set top boxes, and via DTH. The service will also be available via an App for viewing on the move on smartphones and tablets. So, football fans hoping to watch over the air are going to be disappointed.