Sky and BT to do battle once more as Premier League returns
This weekend's return of the Barclays Premier League means two things: football fans will finally be sated after making it through the barren one-month stretch since the end of the World Cup, and Sky will resume its most high-profile battle with BT.
Last season, BT Sport – despite being backed by the telecoms giant's billions – was the plucky newcomer, filling the void left by ESPN's speedy departure from the UK market. Sometimes a breath of fresh air, sometimes a little lacking in Sky's trademark polish, BT was nonetheless a welcome change to the status quo.
But BT has demonstrated – with a spate of recent sporting rights acquisitions – that it simply won't accept playing second fiddle any more. No broadcaster prepared to splash the best part of £900 million on the rights to the Uefa Champions League and Europa League is ever going to accept being the underdog.
It's worth stressing that Sky still holds most of the cards as far as the Premier League is concerned. This season, it will show 116 live games, whereas BT only holds the rights to 38. What's more, in 2013-14, a staggering 49 of the 50 most watched matches were screened by Sky.
However, with BT widely expected to bid for more Premier League rights when the next auction opens, the 2014-15 campaign could be the last one dominated by the satellite broadcaster.
Clearly recognising this fact, Sky is looking to make a statement this season – starting with the opening weekend, when it's opted to open up its sports channels to more than 15 million Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media TV customers.
This clearly demonstrates that the biggest beneficiary of the fierce rivalry between the two companies is the viewer.
The more BT and Sky compete, the more they'll be forced to offer cut-price deals, free access to premium content or even extra channels (only this week Sky launched its new dedicated European football channel, Sky Sports 5).
Which of the two broadcasters will emerge as the dominant force in the UK sports market is far from clear. But as fans, we're hoping their battle runs and runs.
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