BT TV customers are to get access to all of Sky’s sport and entertainment channels, including Game of Thrones for the first time, in a landmark deal that could have ramifications for Premier League rights auction.
The deal marks the end of nearly a decade-long dispute over carrying each other’s channels, as the two companies wrangled over commercial terms.
It means Sky customers will be able to watch BT channels with sport, including Champions League, Premiership rugby and Premier League matches it does not currently air without a separate subscription.
The deal will give BT TV a much needed boost – new quarterly subscriber numbers have dropped to record low of about 8,000 – with prime Sky content including all Premier League football matches to be made available.
BT subscribers will also get access to Sky Atlantic, which airs programmes such as Game of Thrones, Billions, Riviera and Fortitude. They will also get Sky’s entertainment channels including Sky Living, Sky One and Sky Cinema by adding the Now TV streaming service to BT set top boxes from 2019. BT will sell Now TV subscription passes, which allows customers to watch Sky programmes without a monthly subscription.
BT and Sky have been at loggerheads for years over the issue of channel carriage, most acrimoniously over access to Sky’s prime sports channels which had been the subject of a protracted legal battle which BT lost.
BT stands to gain the most from the deal, with just 1.7 million TV customers and anaemic growth it needed to supercharge its content. Sky will gain access to pay-TV fans.
Analysts believe it could affect the scale of bidding when the Premier League TV rights auction begins in February.
The channel deals mean that Sky and BT customers can gain access to all Premier League matches without being forced to choose to buy TV packages from either or both. Analysts believe this could mean the fear of missing out on the best games package in the auction – which has spurred rampant price inflation in recent bidding – could recede.
“This could mean that BT and Sky can take their foot off the accelerator,” Richard Broughton, of Ampere Analysis, said.
“The cost to either BT or Sky of ‘no access’ to games has massively reduced, so they may not feel they need to bid as competitively. Of course there is the big unknown of whether a new bidder, like Amazon, might enter the auction.”
BT and Sky had paid more than £5bn for Premier League rights last time, with costs rising 70% at each of the last two auctions. Bosses of both companies had complained about the high cost for sports rights.
City analysts believe inflation could hit 40% this auction, although pay-TV company sources predict a 23% hike.
“This is an important day for BT and for our customers,” said Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT. “We feel that now is the right time to broaden the ways we distribute BT Sport.”
The chief executive of Sky, Jeremy Darroch, said: “This is great news for Sky customers who will be able to access all matches on Sky and BT channels from the Premier League, Champions League and Europa League directly with a single Sky TV subscription.”
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