Virgin Sports set to take on Sky with football bid

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The Independent Online

NTL made it plain how seriously it intends to take on Rupert Murdoch yesterday by revealing it is planning to bid for the rights to broadcast Premier League football.

On the day it unveiled its long-awaited takeover of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Mobile for £962m, the cable group said it plans to be in the front of the queue to break up BSkyB's football monopoly.

The Premier League, which is under pressure from the Brussels competition authorities, recently committed itself to ensuring that no single broadcaster can buy the rights to all games from 2007.

NTL is launching Virgin Sports and aims to make football the centrepiece of the channel. Jim Mooney, NTL's chairman, said: 'We are looking at Premier League football. I think the concept of Virgin Sports is one of the most exciting things we can look forward to."

The deal to buy Virgin Mobile creates the first so-called "quadruple play" media company, an outfit that will provide consumers with cable television, high-speed internet access, a home phone and a mobile.

Mr Mooney pledged: "We are going to beat up Sky."

The City was sceptical. Philip Guest, at BNP Paribas, said: "We do not believe quadruple play is a natural bundle from a consumer-demand perspective. Triple play services are household services and generally with fixed or low marginal cost, where mobile telephony is a personalised service with high marginal cost. To this extent we see little if any impact on BSkyB."

NTL is betting it can persuade the public to buy all four services simply because of the power of the Virgin brand. It could possibly afford to give away one of the services, a potential disaster for companies that have just one offering.

NTL will pay the Virgin Group a fee each year to use the brand - a risk to Sir Richard's reputation, given the cable company's less-than-spotless reputation for customer service.

BSkyB recently bought Easynet so that it can offer a broadband internet service, available this year. It does not offer mobile phones. "Time will tell whether that is a downside," a spokesman said. "A mobile is something you buy as an individual. That is different from how a family buys entertainment."

Sir Richard is taking £124m in cash and £573m in shares in the new company in return for his 71 per cent stake in Virgin Mobile.

BT to launch 8MB high-speed broadband service for £11.99

British Telecom has unveiled details of its own attempt to grab a leading share of the high-speed internet market.

BT said it will soon provide a super-fast broadband service for £11.99 a month for customers who switch from other providers.

At 8 megabytes, the download speed is four times faster than BT currently offers. The £11.99 offer applies only for the first three months, after which it is £17.99 a month.

BT Vision, its tele-vision-on-demand offering, will come out in the autumn. It has signed deals with BBC and Time Warner for content but is unlikely to do any of its own programming.

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