TV rights in sport spiralling out of control


For years British SKY Broadcasting (BSKYB) have exuded an overbearing arm over television broadcasting, profiting greatly from the big business certain sports have become through their premium Sky Sports packages. Many have tried and ultimately failed at breaking down the lion’s share portion that have continued to feed Rupert Murdoch’s consortium so handsomely – remember NTL Sport? Setanta Sport? Or more recently ESPN? Until now that is, the emergence of the BT Group’s Sport channels, have made BSKYB’s table at the top of televised sporting entertainment rather uneasy, as a credible challenger surfaces.

Last summer BT Sport was born, invigorated with refreshing pundits plus an already, promising batch of exclusive TV rights including; Aviva Premiership, women’s tennis and a host of Premier League games. It wasn’t until November however, that the BT group’s ambition truly became apparent. Through winning the rights to the Champions League and Europa League football, running for three seasons from 2015/16, BT had gained a substantial advantage over their competitors. In doing so, becoming the first single UK broadcaster to win all live rights to all matches from both tournaments – for more than double the price, £898 million.

Through BT’s willingness to overpay, in tandem with their clear ambition, the reality of stopping, after their recent over-the-odds purchases, can be considered relatively slim. By no means are they willing to settle for second fiddle like their predecessors before them. With TV rights up for grabs annually, talk now suggests of a BT barrage upon BSKYB’s other notable possessions. Be it F1 racing, Ryder Cup golf, Ashes cricket or crucially Premier League Football which will all at some point, in the next five years, become available to acquire.

So who really benefits from BT’s recent rise? Certainly not Rupert Murdoch, who saw BSKYB’s shares initially drop 11%, as they surrendered one of their most prized assets to their newly established rivals. Probably not the consumer either, the Champions League has been a staple diet for mid-week terrestrial television since the year dot; bringing the finest continental talent to your living room, without the premium subscription price. Somehow by taking away this privilege from the large majority of the viewing public (30+million digital terrestrial viewers) a rather unsavoury feeling can be felt. Although BT has promised some select games to be shown free-to-air, this will be no real comparison of what ITV currently offer.

The ‘triple play’ is considered the holy grail of consumer telecommunication services whereby the company targets; TV, broadband and home phone product usage, as a complete package. The attraction of one company providing all three has led to BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and potentially, Vodafone to follow in BSKYB’s successful footsteps.  It is therefore no wonder that TV rights have gained increasing demand over recent years as each provider strives to entice consumers into their package over their rivals. The bids and battles for television rights have perversely developed into a sport of its own accord. To some extent detracting from the sports itself, the glass ceiling has been metaphorically broken as excessive bids are tabled to blow competitors out of the water.

With no clear sign of inflated prices dropping, it would seem that BSKYB and BT will be slugging out for the foreseeable future in an attempt to build on the position they currently find themselves in. For me, the game changer is the Premier League TV rights, without them the balance of power would be significantly shifted, but with them and BSKYB can be safe in the knowledge that their time at the top of sport broadcasting, is not over just yet. A year and a half ago BSKYB paid £2.28 billion for 3/4 of Premier League football on offer, and with that figure looking to rise accordingly, who knows what the eventual winning sum shall be.



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