Written by Media, Sport, TV

The Champions’ League – Part Two

This is a follow up to yesterday’s piece anticipating BT’s changes in packages having won exclusive Champions’ League and Europa League rights, although I’m mostly talking about Champions’ League coverage here.

Well BT has announced its new football deal and there were some things we expected, and some things we didn’t.

Yes, Gary Lineker is going to be one of their presenters – I imagine him and Jake Humphreys taking Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Yes, it’ll cost £5 for many people (much more on this below).

Yes, there’ll be a new Freeview channel, BT Sport Showcase which will be where the free-to-air fixtures are shown. But this will be SD only for most people (everyone?), so will look absolutely rubbish on your 46″ TV (And approximately 10% of the country won’t get this channel at all on Freeview. It’s unclear if it’ll pop up on satellite).

The channel has some new pundits in Steven Gerrard (hope he’s up for some media training, because his post match interviews are awful), Rio Ferdinand and Glenn Hoddle amongst others. And there’ll be a 4K service for “select” fixtures. But that’ll need a new box and, in my opinion, a TV somewhere around 55″ or bigger to make any difference.

There’ll also be a “Goals!” show with James Richardson on Champions’ League nights that will chase around all the simultaneous kick offs and show the goals as they go in. Those with long memories may recall that the capacity constrained OnDigital did the same thing. And of course Sky had a red button service that hopped around goals.

The cost of HD is going up 33% for sports pack customers from £3 to £4 (they didn’t highlight this, oddly).

But the devil is in the detail and it’s not all clear at the moment.

BT seems to be making another play for BT TV, their television offering. The trouble is that it’s sub-standard compared to Sky and Virgin Media. The channel choice is limited and significant channels are missing from their options.

From the starting point that they’re appealing to sports fans, then there’s already a limited offering in that only Sky Sports 1 and 2 are available. And in SD only. That should get you most Premier League games, but you’ll be missing out on other sports – golf, European football and F1 immediately spring to mind. And the lack of HD becomes ever more important as screens get bigger. SD is just awful on anything from 40″ upwards. There’s no Eurosport either – which is important to me for cycling coverage. [Update: There is Eurosport, and in HD. See comments for details.]

So a sports fan watching via Sky or Virgin is perhaps unlikely to ditch their current platform.

Now there’s no mention of Virgin Media anywhere at the moment, so we’ll assume that the deals haven’t been done, and that this will happen in due course.

For the large number of Sky subscribers, there are two deals on the table, and we don’t know what one of them will cost.

– Those taking BT Broadband are looking at £5 a month for the full BT Sports Pack as the new package including the regular BT Sports channels, plus the new European one seems to be called. Then it’s £4 a month for HD. But what extra channels are they getting in HD? For Champions’ League and Europa League, there will be at least two British teams playing simultaneously in the league part of the competition. Will Sky and Virgin viewers be able to see both those games in HD? Or will there be a single HD channel and a red button SD service? It seems that the latter is likely since only one additional channel is being launched.

– Those who don’t have BT Broadband – e.g. Sky customers who have, perhaps, a Sky Broadband deal – will have to pay at least £13.50 a month for an SD package, and quite probably more. BT hasn’t released pricing. This has to be a substantial part of Sky’s football subscribers, and therefore a market that BT wants to reach. Charging perhaps £15-20 is a really steep ask, and I’m not at all convinced that many will bite. From what we can tell, the vast proportion of current BT Sport providers are BT Broadband customers getting it free. Relatively few football fans are paying £13.50 for a meagre offering of additional Premier League matches (one more year of the current Premier League deal to go), and lots will have decided that not spending the money is worthwhile for a handful fewer games. Champions’ League football does make a difference, but I wonder how much? This is the toughest sector to move.

For me as a Sky subscriber but with BT Broadband and wanting to watch Champions’ League football, I’m looking at paying £6 more a month (+£5 BT Sport; +£1 increased HD cost) for less HD football. Furthermore, depending on the draw, as an Arsenal fan, I face the prospect of seeing little HD football on the Sky platform because programmers tend to choose, say, Man Utd or Chelsea over Arsenal when highlighting a single fixture. And will I be able to record those red button channels?

Viewers of BT TV seem to get all the channels in HD. So is this an attempt to lure current Sky viewers – particularly those on BT Broadband – into getting a second box and watch via that? The “free” price point for those taking the minimum TV offering suggests that’s the way to go. Even with high-speed fibre, I’ll need convincing that sport is capable of glitch-free playback via IP. Can I do both? Get BT Sports on both Sky and BT TV for one fee?

It also looks like people currently getting BT Sport 1, 2 and ESPN free will actually only get BT Sport 1 free in future. BT Sport 2 and ESPN become part of the paid-for BT Sport pack. Because those people currently have the “BT Sports Pack” which is £0 currently, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’re not rolled up to the £5 package. “BT Sports Lite” is a new package altogether which customers may well have to opt to choosing pro-actively.

The issue regarding months when little European football is played (e.g. January) isn’t really addressed – except you without a subscription you can’t see BT Sport 2 or ESPN during those months. This doesn’t make me want to rush to pay for August though since the Champions’ League proper doesn’t start until mid-September.

Overall, it’s a thoroughly confusing offering.

BT’s marketing material is really going to have to work hard at explaining how costs are broken down, with different prices dependent on platform and broadband supplier, and different HD and 4K offerings dependent on platform.

Their website is currently woefully short on information.

The one thing I’m pretty confident about is that the free-to-air ratings will be terrible. Unless they offer a little more in the way of “Showcased” programming, few will discover the channel on the occasions that they show games free of charge.