Setanta is looking to displace Sky Sports in Virgin Media homes. Julian Clover looks at the new alliance
Sport, particularly football, has always been a key driver for pay-TV in most of Europe – even more so than movies. It took the retrenchment of Canal+ from most of its interests outside of France before dedicated sports channels replaced the primary colours.
UK cable has struggled to make its mark in sports, from Wire TV’s coverage of minor league games where those on the pitch probably outnumbered the audience, through to NTL’s partnership with British Eurosport. NTL also came a cropper when it purchased pay-per-view rights to the Premiership, only to be forced to hand them back amid its financial woes, and see Sky pick up the pieces in the form of Premiership Plus.
But coming along the outside rail Setanta Sports, once the privilege of Irish pubs, has this week struck a deal with Virgin Media to place its premium channels in the cablenet’s big basic package and provide a new sports news channel, Setanta Sports News.
For cable viewers this largely solvers the conundrum set by the European Commission when it ruled that the rights to the English Premiership should be divided among more than one operator. The result was that the long suffering football fans – who suffer almost as much as those who would rather hear about something else – would end up paying more for their fix than before the EC intervened. While this is still the case for satellite subscribers, Virgin Media homes can receive all six packages of football at much the same cost as last season, and in the process giving Setanta the best part of 1.5 million homes.
Setanta Sports News will be exclusive to Virgin Media, effectively replacing the popular Sky Sports News, withdrawn from Virgin homes earlier this year. The channel will presumably become the natural home for sports news in cable homes, and will be used to promote Setanta’s premium coverage, in the same way that Sky Sports News so often concentrates on events to which it has the rights. Three million basic homes should be enough to sustain the channel, but what happens when (or possibly if) the Sky basic channels return to Virgin?
Saturday afternoons are when the football fan settles down to check the scores of those matches not moved to primetime kick-offs. Sky Sports News score programme is then simulcast on Sky Sports 1, still available on Virgin, testing the loyalties to Setanta again.