BT is in talks that could result in its sports TV channels being sold off or becoming part of a joint venture.
Confirming reports made by The Daily Telegraph and the FT, BT told investors this morning it had started talks with potential partners. Any proceeds from a deal would be ploughed into the rollout of full fibre broadband in the UK.
Potential partners are understood to include DAZN, Amazon, Walt Disney and private equity companies. It could lead to a company buying a stake in BT Sport, or BT Sport moving to a joint venture. A full disposal of BT Sport is also a possibility.
“Further to media reports, BT can confirm that early discussions are being held with a number of select strategic partners, to explore ways to generate investment, strengthen our sports business, and help take it to the next stage in its growth. The discussions are confidential and may or may not lead to an outcome.”BT STATEMENT – 29th APRIL 2021
DAZN is eager to increase its presence in the UK and is interested in acquiring Premier League broadcast rights. The Premier League is currently considering if it should abandon a planned auction of UK broadcast rights. Instead, rights could rollover to current rights holders. If this came about, acquiring a share or taking full control of BT Sport would provide a way in for DAZN.
Disney-owned ESPN is already in a partnership with BT since 2013. The partnership arose after BT took over from ESPN as the second Premier League pay TV rights holder, after Sky. ESPN went on to run ‘ESPN America’ in the UK, featuring US sports. This service was later co-branded BT Sport ESPN and became part of BT Sport’s channel offer.
Amazon has been a Premier League rights holder since the 2019-20 season and is actively growing its sports streaming business.
Change in direction
It’s nearly eight years since BT launched its sports channels as part of a major drive to boost its TV business. It triggered years of disputes with pay TV giant Sky, peaking after BT won rights to the Champions League. Subscribers of both companies were enticed with long-term contracts bundling broadband and pay TV, masking significant price rises. BT TV users were locked out of the full set of Sky Sports channels. Sky’s customers missed out on BT’s 4K UHD channel.
In recent years, BT has shifted its attention to supporting the rollout of faster fibre broadband connections. Following a landmark deal, BT allowed Sky to access its YouView platform. In turn, Sky was given the right to directly sell BT channels to its customers. Since last year, BT is a wholesaler of Sky’s Now streaming television service. BT TV users are now able to receive a wider range of Sky’s channels, including Sky Atlantic and all Sky Sports channels. As a result, BT has moved away from just running its own TV platform to become an aggregator of various streaming services. A number of carriage deals with linear TV broadcasters outside of Sky’s Now service have been allowed to expire.
BT stresses that a deal is not guaranteed, saying it “may or may not lead to an outcome”.