Could 2014 be the year Sky is finally knocked off its podium as the UK’s principal provider of premium TV?
The opening shots in what is likely to be a year-long skirmish were fired last November by BT when it paid nearly £900m to broadcast 350 live Champions League and Europa League football matches each season from 2015. The Champions League was previously free on ITV.
BT says some matches, including finals, will remain subscription-free – but you don’t need a Business School certificate to see that they wouldn’t have spent so much money without wanting some of yours.
This they are tempting with BT TV, a service that strikes at the heart of the football-focussed proposition that earned Sky market dominance for a generation.
This has created a consumer minefield from what was a level playing field. Navigating the small print will get more difficult as both respond to market changes.
Currently, BT TV’s chief selling point is that its two sports channels are free with BT broadband for 18 months. That’s why they’re getting into the TV business: broadband is more lucrative, in the long term. Taking a lead from Sky, BT includes a set-top box – but the type depends on the package. The latest YouView boxes – with the iPlayer built into the on-screen programme guide – are not yet compatible with all the sports channels – and the substitute BT Vision+ boxes lack some high-definition channels and 5.1 surround sound. BT is sweetening this – with unlimited access to its UK wi-fi hotspot network.
Sky’s many packages encompass different combinations of TV, phone and broadband. Read the small print carefully to determine exactly what you get. Pay close attention to broadband speed and the monthly download limits. BT’s full monty, with “superfast” fibre optic broadband and line rental, is about £85 a month and still lacks some Sky’s sports channels.
Despite this, Sky remains the service of choice for diehard sports fans.
However 2014 will see others arrive – including, most likely, Plusnet in Yorkshire.