BT Success Will Measure Quad Play Numbers, Not Just Euro Football Viewers

Has BT landed a near billion-pound pup? Or has it truly hurt Sky by taking Champions League football away from the satellite broadcaster for the next three seasons? As it unveiled England footballing legend and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker as its anchor for Champions League games, Sky was already starting a war of words.

According to a blog from Sky Sports MD, Barney Francis, not one European game was in the channel's top 40 for the year, signalling a massive shift in favour of the domestic Premier League where Sky Sports still dominates. European football audiences fell by just over a third during the past five seasons. 

Sour grapes? It could be. One can only presume that Sky would have liked to continue its football dominance unrivalled -- and one need only consider the fact that although two countries were represented in this year's final (Spain's Barcelona and Italy's Juventus) the previous two finals were all Spanish and all German affairs. You have to be a committed football fan with nothing else going on on a Saturday evening to stay in and watch another nation's teams duke it out for the top trophy.

The other point that can't be stressed enough is that these finals were shared with ITV, as was a midweek game throughout the tournament. While Sky will say they only got just under half a million viewers for last week's final, ITV can lay claim to a pretty respectable 5.3m. So, if a pay TV operator shares rights with a free-to-air broadcaster, it can't really be too surprised to see the lion's share of viewers switching to ITV. That's still nearly 6m people, then, who watched a game that didn't involve a British side. It's a little more than half the audience that saw my team, London-based Chelsea, win the trophy four years ago. 

So with European football there is a very obvious audience-deciding factor that a broadcaster takes a massive gamble on. If domestic clubs from England and Scotland do well in the Champions League and Europa League audiences will be higher than if they don't. Simple as. The omens are not looking particularly good for BT here with Scottish clubs generally failing to progress beyond the group stage of the Champions League and English clubs failing to make it beyond the quarter finals over the past three years as Spanish and German clubs continue to dominate.

The lack of support on Sky Sports reflects this, as well as the simple fact that some key games and final were broadcast by ITV.

Of course, the major point for BT is that its sports channels (there will be a 4K one in operation for the new season as well as a dedicated BT Sports Europe channel) are about quad play. By offering its sports packages (let's not forget there's quite a bit of rugby in there too) it makes it a no-brainer for people to either select BT Broadband or stick with it. Particularly if you live in a non-contested area, as I do. Why would you elect to have BT's service offered by a third party and lose access to free European and Premier League football?

Sky has done deals on its triple play -- but it has never been quite so brazen as to give free Sky Sports to those taking out its phone and broadband packages. BT, then, will measure the success of its near billion pound gamble on football by take up of its quad play (4G packages have just been released from just a fiver per month) services and a decline in churn rate as it will how many people tune in to see top games. Of course, it could do with English and Scottish clubs doing well in the two competitions, but it's not as vital as it was to Sky. It was relying on ratings while BT obviously wants to see big audiences but customers committing to a year of triple or quad play BT services are already signed up and protected from churning, regardless of who makes the final. BT is selling the equivalent of a season ticket rather than measuring the gate on each individual game.

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