July 25 - More than half a million customers have signed up to BT's new sports service ahead of its launch next week. As the group reported forecast-beating profits Hayley Platt asks whether the new service will further improve the fortunes of the 167-year-old former state monopoly.
It hasn't been launched yet but more than half a million customers have already signed up to British Telecom's new sports channel. From next month BT broadband users will be able to choose from 38 matches and 69 rugby games as well as tennis. Alex Green is BT's director of TV. SOUNDBITE: Alex Green, director of TV, saying (English): "This is really going to help drive the consumer business on other product lines like broadband so yes it's a big investment and we're very serious about it. We think there is room for two or more players in this area." BT hopes it's investment in live sport will stop customers defecting to other broadband providers, especially BSksB The venture isn't without risk. After a series of profit warnings in 2008 and 9 the 167-year-old former state monopoly has turned itself around. It's first quarter profit this year comfortably beat expectations, largely thanks to heavy cost cuts and a good performance in its retail division. IHS's Guy Bisson says they'll need deep pockets. SOUNDBITE: Guy Bisson, Research Director, IHS Media & Electronics, saying (English): "The challenge when you spend big on sports is to pull new customers into the offer and that's really where the risk is. it's really how Sky built its business in the UK by taking that upfront risk. So become a bigger player in the market it's going to have to spend much more, get much more live games games and really take a stab at attacking Sky's broadband offer." The Premier League is one of Britain's most successful exports. Overseas TV rights to see the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United for the next three years are thought to be worth 2 billion pounds. BT has committed over a billion pounds to the new sports channel on top of a £2.5 billion investment in a high speed broadband network. SOUNDBITE: Guy Bisson, Research Director, IHS Media & Electronics, saying (English): "I think longer term the threat is looking forward to 2016 and seeing where BT is positioned then in terms of the sports market and whether they want to make a bigger play for sports rights at that time, that's when the market will become interesting." Current BT boss Ian Livingston won't be with the company then - he's preparing to step down. He leaves the business in better shape than when he joined 5 years ago - after the latest results its stock was trading near a six-year high.