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BT's Premier League football on ITV - what's the story?

Thursday, August 23rd 2012 by Nigel Adie
BT has won the rights to 38 Premier League games per season over three years
Could a partnership between BT and ITV to broadcast Premier League football really work?

With the Premier League's many armchair followers only just settling down for another season, a potentially groundbreaking development in the terrestrial TV market emerged this week.

According to a report in the Telegraph, ITV has been in talks to broadcast live Premier League football for the first time through a deal with BT.

The newspaper said the broadcaster would consider paying BT for access to several of the matches the telecoms giant purchased for £738 million in the recent rights auction.

However, it wasn't long before an ITV spokesperson emerged to flatly deny that the channel has any interest in partnering with BT to broadcast Premier League action.

Instead, it was claimed that the broadcaster will simply consider bidding for the contract to produce the football programming for BT Vision, the firm's own pay TV service.

So what is the typical TV subscriber and football fan supposed to make of all this? And would the rumoured deal between BT and ITV make any commercial sense?

Telegraph columnist Damian Reece seems to think it would. On Tuesday, he wrote that the proposed tie-up suggests "all sorts of intriguing possibilities for the two companies".

He said the deal would give ITV a chance to offer something that had previously seemed completely unattainable, while providing huge national exposure for BT's services.

"Throw in shared advertising revenues and it's not a bad way for BT to defray some of the £738 million it has spent on the sport," Mr Reece commented.

Looking a little closer, however, it's not clear if the numbers add up.

The Guardian pointed out that BT's matches could realistically expect to make a maximum of £1.5 million from advertising and sponsorship if they were screened to ITV viewers. Given that BT has paid about £6.5 million per fixture on average, the shortfall here would seem too large to make it a viable option.

Throw in the fact that BT might not even be permitted to sub-license matches to other broadcasters under the terms of its deal with the Premier League, and the rumoured partnership with ITV suddenly looks a lot less feasible.

So while some football fans will no doubt welcome the fact that BT appears willing to challenge BSkyB's dominance of Premier League broadcasting, it may take a while for the newcomer to develop a truly effective strategy.

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