BT draws 500,000 ahead of TV football battle with Sky

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The Independent Online

BT has signed up more than half a million customers for its BT Sport channels in two months, giving a boost to the telecoms giant as it prepares to go head- to-head with BSkyB over football coverage.

"We're really encouraged," said BT's outgoing chief executive, Ian Livingston, who has taken a gamble by offering the new pay-TV sport channels for free to broadband subscribers.

BT said most of the people who have signed up are existing broadband customers who already have a TV set-top box from BT or Sky and have added the sports channels to their package.

The group has claimed the proportion of new customers will increase once the channels begin broadcasting next month when the Premier League season starts.

Despite the popularity of the sports channels, BT's own pay-TV service, BT Vision, won only 23,000 customers in the past three months, taking its base to 833,000 – a fraction of Sky's 10 million subscribers.

In addition to BT Vision, the group is offering customers YouView, the internet-enabled TV set-top box, but gave no numbers.

That was in contrast to TalkTalk, which boasted this week that it had attracted 160,000 customers in the quarter by giving away free YouView boxes.

"Ours is different from a company that reported yesterday," said Lord Livingston, referring to TalkTalk. "We don't give people set-top boxes [for free]. We sign them up for packages that actually contribute revenues," he added, noting that average revenue per user from TV customers rose 5 per cent.

Lord Livingston, who leaves in September to become a trade minister, bowed out with results that beat expectations. Pre-tax profits before exceptional items rose 5 per cent to £595m, while underlying revenues fell 1 per cent to £4.45bn. The shares hit a 12-year high this week.