BSkyB rivals team up to undercut prices

By Kevin Hilton

SVG Europe correspondent

BSkyB’s position as the dominant non-terrestrial provider of sport and entertainment in the UK is under further threat now two of its fiercest rivals have teamed up to undercut its prices. Hard on the heels of linking with broadband provider BT Vision Irish sports broadcaster Setanta, which has wrested many Premier League matches away from Sky Sport for the 2007-2008 season onwards, is making English and Scottish football, golf, rugby and horse racing available to cable operator Virgin Media.

Viewers taking Virgin’s basic XL package will be able to watch 46 live Premier League games, 60 Scottish Premier League matches, the US PGA Golf Tour, European League football and, from 2008, selected coverage of the FA Cup. Setanta is already offering low subscription rates for its own packages, and with BT Vision is allowing viewers to watch single Premiership games for 1.99 on a no-contract basis, but the Virgin deal is another blow against Sky’s prices.

Virgin Media, the new ownership and branding for the NTL cable network, is offering a single contract for all Premiership games at 100 less than what viewers would pay with Sky. The broadcasters emphasise that this is not a short-term promotional gimmick but a continuing package and price. Virgin Media customers on other packages will be able to add the Setanta channels for 8 a month.

The move can be seen as Virgin Media getting even with Sky, which has withheld many of its channels from the cable operator’s packages, a situation that has been reviewed by the regulator, Ofcom.

Setanta begins its English Premier League coverage from August but, unlike Sky, will not be offering its matches in HD or 5.1. A spokesperson for Setanta said 5.1 would be implemented once HD was in place and that both were part of “product development” and would come in the future.

The co-founder of Setanta Sports, Michael O’Rourke, commented, “This deal emphasises Setanta’s determination to make premium sports content available to as many people as possible, at the best value possible.”