BARCELONA Nov 20 Fresh from stunning its rivals
in the battle to show European Champions League soccer, British
telecoms group BT will be in a strong financial position
to bid for the next round of English Premier League rights, its
chief executive said on Wednesday.
BT, the once-staid 168-year-old telecoms operator, said
earlier this month it had out-bid pay-TV group BSkyB and
free-to-air broadcaster ITV to show Europe's premier
soccer competition from 2015 to 2018.
The news, and the fact BT was willing to pay more than
double the price of the previous contract, wiped more than 1.5
billion pounds ($2.43 billion) off the market value of the
Rupert Murdoch-founded company, and showed that BT had arrived
as a proper challenger to the UK's dominant pay-TV provider.
It also focused attention on whether BSkyB, which built its
business on the back of acquiring the most attractive sports
programming, will be able to maintain its grip on the majority
of live Premier League matches when they come up for auction.
"Because we've got this strong base in European football, on
an exclusive basis it gives us that little bit more
flexibility," Chief Executive Gavin Patterson told the annual
Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecoms investor
conference in Barcelona, when asked how he would approach the
next round of bidding for domestic rights, expected in 2015.
Ominously for rivals Patterson also noted that the group was
likely to be nearing the end of its more than 3 billion-pound
($5 billion) fibre build-out programme by the time the next
"The business is in a much stronger financial shape, it's
generating a lot of cash," he said. "It's at a point where it
can afford to take choices because it will also be getting
towards the end of the fibre roll-out."
BT currently owns the rights to show 38 live Premier League
matches a season, compared with the 116 games shown by the
BT, which spent years slashing costs and cutting staff after
two major profit warnings in 2008 and 2009, is offering sports
for free to broadband customers in a bid to protect its core
business. Patterson said, however, that customers wanting to
watch the Champions League matches would have to pay a modest
Speaking at the same conference, the heads of BSkyB and ITV
said they would reinvest the money they would now no longer be
paying for the mid-week European matches, and sought to play
down the effect the loss of the likes of Manchester United
versus Barcelona would have on their businesses.
Jeremy Darroch, chief executive of BSkyB since December
2007, said the group had broadened out in recent years to
broadcast in more than 10 million homes, offering movies,
entertainment, a range of sports and a platform that enables
viewers to catch up on programming when they want.
He said Champions League programming accounted for less than
3 percent of viewing on Sky Sports and said there was a limit to
how much people would pay.
He noted, however, that he would be keen to agree a mutual
wholesale deal with BT, where both would carry the channels of
their rivals on their own platforms so customers at both groups
could access the full range of live sports programming.
ITV Chief Executive Adam Crozier said the Tuesday night
Champions League game had accounted for less than 1 percent of
viewing on its channels, and although the final may draw in more
than 8 million viewers, an average Champions League game
attracts between 3.5 and 4 million viewers.
"We have factual programmes that will do those kind of
audiences at a fraction of the cost," he said. "We would have
liked to have it, but not at any price, I'm very clear about