ESPN seals distribution deal with Virgin Media

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The Independent Online

ESPN has secured its second major broadcasting agreement in the UK, with a deal to show its sports channels on Virgin Media. The Disney-owned broadcaster is also in late stage negotiations to wholesale the new ESPN channel, which goes live on Monday, to remaining pay TV providers BT Vision and Top Up TV.

A source close to the negotiations said: "The talks are progressing and ESPN hopes to finalise agreements by the time the channel launches."

The latest deal gives Virgin's 3.5 million digital television customers access to ESPN's channels. Subscribers to Virgin's premium package XL will receive the content free, while the rest will pay either £10 a month or £8 if they already have Sky Sports subscriptions.

Lynne Frank, managing director for ESPN in Europe, Middle East and Africa, said the channel was "delighted" to add Virgin Media as a new distribution partner. "It's an exciting season ahead and we look forward to bringing our new channels to as many sports fans as possible."

Mark Schweitzer, chief commercial officer of Virgin Media, said the company always looked "to go the extra mile for our customers and we think this market beating offer does this in spades as well as providing a sweetener for the start of the football season".

ESPN picked up the rights to the English Premier League after the collapse of Setanta in the UK last month. The group will screen 46 Premier League matches next season and 23 for each of the following three seasons.

At the time of the announcement in June, the group said it had already had a deal with BSkyB in place and made no secret that it was talking with other pay TV platforms.

The group, which is 80 per cent owned by Walt Disney subsidiary ABC and the rest held by the Hearst Corporation, is based in Connecticut. It had little presence in the UK until recently.

It is looking to increase its content as well as its distribution, with the Virgin deal coming a day after the it picked up rights to football across Europe. This included the German, Portuguese, Dutch and Russian top divisions.

One ESPN insider added that the group was in the process of picking up rights to other international sports outside of football. When Setanta collapsed, rights for sports including golf, boxing, cricket and rugby were freed.

"ESPN will be announcing more rights wins in the next couple of weeks," the source added.