Tech Talk: TV’s muddied pitch

Executive Producer Grant Best launches BT's Sports channel
Executive Producer Grant Best launches BT's Sports channel
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BT is squaring up to big-hitter BSkyB, says David Behrens.

IT’S still summer, but the football season is already upon us – and for armchair spectators this one is already the most complicated since they changed the offside rule. BSkyB, for years the only big-name player in town for live and nearly-live match coverage, has suddenly had to up its game to keep up with a promising new signing.

The phone giant BT has chosen this year to make its big entrance into the lucrative pay-TV sports market. Its offering isn’t sufficiently wide-ranging to knock Sky off its perch completely, but it’s big enough to grab a healthy slice of the cake. No fewer than 154 English Premier League games will be screened live this season, 116 on Sky and 38 on BT Sport.

Sky and BT, in common with the other big telecoms providers, are focused on owning all the multimedia content that comes into your house – whether through your satellite dish or internet connection – and premium football is the crowbar with which they force open your door. That’s why BT is offering its sports channels free to broadband subscribers and Sky free broadband to customers who buy its £42.50-a-month sports channels.

All of which adds up to confusion for viewers over where the best deal is to be had. Once you factor in high-definition channels and online access to PCs, phones and tablets, the pitch gets muddier still.

Yet essentially, it boils down to one multiple-choice question – Do you want to watch: a) as much football as possible; b) a modicum of football; or c) no football? If you answered c), then there’s nothing to see here; return to your business. If you plumped for a), your clear choice is Sky – nothing else comes close, especially for HD coverage. Only if you’re in the middle camp is it worth weighing up your options.

The amount you will pay depends on many factors: when you sign up, whether you were already a customer and, of course, the exact nature of the package you’re signing up to.

However, here are a few tips for keeping the bill as low as possible.

Take into account the speed of the broadband you’re getting and whether your monthly use is going to be capped. Will you have to pay extra for a set-top box, and if so, will it record programmes and receive HD channels? And will it give you access to the BBC iPlayer and its equivalents? Consider, too, whether you want to watch entire matches or just the goals – a raft of new highlights-only services are coming to mobile devices over the next few months.