BSkyB posted £3.75B in adjusted revenues for the six months ended December 31, 2013, up 7.6% on the comparable period in 2012, the company said this morning. Operating profit dropped 8% to £595M compared to the same period the year prior. Still, that was slightly better than the £586M some analysts had predicted as Sky faces increasing rivalry from BT over sports rights. Adjusted earnings (EBIDTA) were stable at £813M. Of note, there was strong demand for subscription products including TV, telephone and broadband with 873,000 signed up in the last three months of 2013; 42% more than the similar period in 2012. The operator now has over 5.1M broadband subscribers. Churn, one of the elements that investors are keeping a close eye on, was 10.8% for the period, up .5%, but down .2% for the final quarter. On-demand usage also increased threefold in the last quarter. Shares in the 21st Century Fox-controlled pay-TV provider were up 4.6% in morning London trading.
Shares in 21st Century Fox-controlled BSkyB were up today in London after falling as much as 10% on Monday. That drop came after the UK’s BT Sport scored a big goal by winning the exclusive broadcast rights to 350 UEFA Champions League and Europa League soccer matches per year from the 2015/2016 season. The £897M ($1.4B) deal that was announced Saturday marks the first time a single UK broadcaster has won the exclusive live rights to all matches from both tournaments (BSkyB and ITV currently share them). It was seen as a big kick in the shins to Britain’s leading pay-TV group, but could end up as a boon for British producers. Sky’s recent growth is through its entertainment channels, while premium sports and movies are relatively stable. So, increasing the pot on acquisitions and original commissions looks like “a sensible place to keep investing,” I’m told.
Britain’s BT has pacted with Liberty Global-owned Virgin Media to offer its nascent BT Sport package on Virgin’s UK pay-TV service. The move comes just in time for the British Premier League soccer season which kicks off this weekend. The wholesale deal more than triples the number of BT Sport viewers, bringing the total to about 3M for the three channels (Virgin’s XL subscribers will get the channels for free and lower tier subscribers will be able to purchase them for £15.) Both BT and Virgin compete with Sky, the UK’s dominant pay player. However, Virgin also offers Sky’s channels meaning that following today’s BT pact, it becomes “the only place sports fans can enjoy every goal, try, penalty and heart-stopping sporting moment,” Virgin said in a statement. Sky, meanwhile, is giving Britain a “free day of football” on Saturday when it makes Sky Sports available to every UK household. As a rule, BT offers BT Sport 1, 2 and ESPN HD for free to its broadband customers.
BT has steadily increased its position in the sports rights arena, outbidding ESPN for 38 live Premier League matches for each of the next three seasons in a £738M deal in 2012. (It has since acquired ESPN’s UK & Ireland TV businesses.) At the same time, Sky is paying £2.3B over three years for 116 live matches. Other players have tried and failed to take on Sky in the sports game, but some media watchers say BT isn’t necessarily eyeing a challenge to its supremacy in that domain.
The battle between BT and BSkyB continues to mount with UK regulator Ofcom opening an investigation into the News Corp.-controlled pay-TV group on the back of a complaint brought by BT. In the claim, which BT filed in late May, the group alleges that BSkyB has engaged in an abuse of dominant position by withholding its sports channels from BT’s YouView platform unless BT supplies its own sports channels to Sky for retail on Sky’s platform. Ofcom says it believes there are reasonable grounds for suspecting an infringement under the 1998 Competition Act and will consider whether Sky has abused a dominant position under UK and/or EU law. BT and Sky have become fierce competitors especially where sports, notably soccer, are concerned. BT is in the process of acquiring ESPN’s UK and Ireland TV channels business and is launching a new Sport TV package this summer which it is offering for free to its broadband customers. BSkyB and BT share the rights to Britain’s Premiere League soccer games with the former holding 116 live matches and the latter 38. The season kicks off in August. Sky said today it considers BT’s complaint to be “entirely without merit.” Sky group director of corporate affairs Graham McWilliam added, “In long negotiations …
In a deal expected to close in late July, UK telecommunications provider BT will acquire ESPN‘s UK and Ireland TV channels business which primarily includes the ESPN and ESPN America channels. As part of the deal, BT, an aggressive player in the UK sports rights arena, will pick up those channels’ rights to live soccer matches from the FA Cup, the UEFA Europe League, the German Bundesliga and the Scottish Premier League. BT will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel and will continue to air U.S. sports including NCAA college basketball, NCAA college football and NASCAR. Disney-owned ESPN had been seeking an exit from the ultra-competitive UK market which BT entered last year via a £738M deal ($1.1B) for 38 live Premier League soccer games annually for three years from the start of the 2013-14 season. That competition resulted in split rights with News Corp’s BSkyB and shut out ESPN. BT has acquired additional rights to high-profile rugby and tennis tournaments as well and is launching a new Sport TV package this summer. ESPN will continue to own and operate its existing digital media businesses while the non-UK ESPN America TV businesses and ESPN Classic are expected to be wound down throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. BT said the transaction is expected to complete on July 31. Financials were not disclosed.
UK telecommunications provider BT is negotiating to buy soccer rights from ESPN as the Disney-owned channel explores an exit from the UK, the Financial Times reports. BT aims to launch as many as three sports channels offering soccer, rugby and other sports content the company has already secured for about £1B ($1.6B). The ESPN rights that may be up for grabs to BSkyB as well as BT include games from the German Bundesliga, the Europa League and the English Football Association Cup. Interest in sports rights has driven up costs for broadcasters globally as well as in the U.S. The rights in question might cost £20M ($32M) or more annually. Last summer BT paid £738m ($1.18B or about $394M per season) for the rights to 32 Premier League football games for three years in a competition that split rights with News Corp’s BSkyB. ESPN was outbid in that contest and lost the rights. BT has acquired additional rights as well and is preparing the multiplatform sports service for a pre-summer launch.
British Sky Broadcasting Group and telecommunications company BT Group have won bidding to broadcast 154 English Premier League soccer matches for $4.7 billion — almost doubling the current deal, Bloomberg reports. BSkyB’s pay-TV Sky channel will show 116 matches starting in the 2013-14 season, with the phone and broadband company BT getting 38 matches. The Walt Disney Company’s ESPN lost the right to broadcast Premier League matches. BT will pay $381 million for its share of the matches. BSkyB, of which News Corp owns 39%, bid higher to retain the sports rights it relies on to keep and lure subscribers. BT is marketing more broadband conneections and will use the games to start a new sports channel. The phone company hadn’t broadcast games before.
While anti-piracy legislation is at a standstill in the US, the path was cleared in the UK today for the Digital Economy Act, a law that requires Internet providers to crack down on suspected pirates. London’s Court of Appeals thwarted a challenge to the Act from two of the country’s leading broadband companies, TalkTalk Telecom and the BT Group, by upholding a lower court’s decision that the Act is consistent with European laws. The move allows officials to finally begin implementing the legislation which has been slow to move forward since it was originally established in 2010. Under the Act, rights holders will inform ISPs when they have suspicions of material being illegally downloaded. The ISPs will then be required to alert suspects in writing under a graduated response system that could ultimately result in penalties. The 2 operators in question contended that it was not for them to police their customers, citing excessive costs and the question of invasion of privacy. The decision comes a little less than 2 months after the US put the controversial PIPA and SOPA bills on hold. Industry groups in the UK today welcomed the news. Lavinia Carey, chief of the British Video Association, said the org was “delighted that the Government can now press on with implementation of notice-sending under the 2010 Digital Economy Act. The video industry generates the single largest source of returns on investment for film
British broadband and digital TV provider BT Vision has entered a licensing agreement with Miramax to give BT Vision Unlimited customers a selection of movies on demand from the Miramax library. In a first, a special Miramax-branded area will be created within BT’s Film space. The deal with BT follows a streaming agreement that Miramax entered with Netflix for the U.K. and Ireland late last year. The full BT Vision/Miramax press release is below:
The agreement gives BT Vision Unlimited subscribers instant access to a range of films from the Miramax collection, which has received 284 Academy Award nominations and won 68 Oscars.
The films available will include: Academy Award Best Picture winner Chicago; Pulp Fiction, the modern classic directed by Quentin Tarantino, as well as Kill Bill 1 and 2; nine-Academy Award winner The English Patient; Good Will Hunting, written by and starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck; The Talented Mr. Ripley, starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law; The Aviator, directed by Martin Scorsese; and the first three instalments of the horror franchise, Scream.
BSkyB has for years held exclusive rights to the movies of the major Hollywood studios in the first subscription pay-TV window, the UK’s Competition Commission pointed out in a provisional report issued today, saying Sky’s large subscriber base is preventing rivals BT and Virgin Media from bidding successfully against Sky for these rights. BSkyB responded by saying it will cooperate with the the ongoing regulatory review but believes that no regulatory intervention is required.
“At the heart of the problem is Sky’s strong position in the pay-TV market, with twice as many subscribers to pay TV as all other traditional pay-TV retailers put together,” said Laura Carstensen, who headed the commission probe. Sky supplies some other pay-TV companies with its movie channels, but the industry watchdog said that prices charged for the service are too high. Consumers are paying up to $98M a year too much to see films on television as result of Sky’s dominance, the commission said. Subscribers to Sky’s 12 movie channels pay roughly $60 a month.
Kip Meek has been appointed non-executive chairman of Project Canvas, the joint venture between the BBC, ITV, BT, Channel 4, TalkTalk and Arqiva to create on-demand TV. Meek will step down from his consulting job at Ingenious Media. There’s been talk that Orange, the French mobile phone company, may join Project Canvas. Five dropped out earlier this month because of budget restraints.
Set to be called YouView, Canvas could transform the way we watch TV here in Britain. Canvas will convert your TV into an on-demand portal, where you can watch the output of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five whenever you want. I’m very excited about the implications of Project Canvas. In a few years’ time, I suspect the whole notion of watching linear TV channels is going to seem very quaint.