It’s BT 1 and Sky 0 as they fight it out in TV football’s big match

With BT’s grabbing of the live Champions League matches for a whistle-inducing £900m - we’ve a genuine, red-blooded contest to sit back and savour

Share

Whenever I meet City old-timers, the talk turns, inevitably to the “good old days” – of hostile takeovers and bitter rivalries. Business today, we moan, is oh so polite, in public anyway, with bids, if there are any, all agreed and cosy, and everyone getting on like a house on fire.

Thank God then, for BT and Sky. Suddenly, with BT’s grabbing of the live Champions League matches for a whistle-inducing £900m we’ve a genuine, red-blooded contest to sit back and savour.

Who will win? If you’d asked me that question as recently as a few weeks ago I would have said Sky for sure. They had all the snapping fury handed down to them by their founder Rupert Murdoch, theirs was a sheer aggression that brooked no opposition.

But then I met Sir Mike Rake, the BT chairman, and I was not so certain. When I said going for football TV rights (last year BT bought the ability to show 38 Premier League games a season and has since followed up by giving football away free to its broadband customers) was a desperate, defensive play by BT, the boss visibly bristled. “No. What we did with the Olympics last year [BT was a London 2012 sponsor] was part of an extremely well-thought-through strategy. Football was a follow-on to that. We took the view that Sky can use our infrastructure but it won’t sell us content at wholesale prices. Therefore we thought we had to do it ourselves and put our money where our mouth is.”

Sir Mike added: “Our team has done very well. We’re managing it, we’re creating competition. Sky has been a fantastically successful company, but we believe the playing field has not been level, and now we’re going to level it.”

As he said this last bit, he was grinning. I took two messages from the encounter: any notion that BT was not pursuing a deliberate plan was wrong; second, he and his colleagues are fully determined.

It’s been too easy to under-estimate BT and to an extent, Sir Mike. BT, the sleepy, formerly state-owned land-line provider; owner of moribund telephone exchanges; a has-been in comparison to the slicker, new players. Sir Mike, its accountant chairman, the latest president of the CBI, itself an organisation that smacks more of padded establishment comfort than tooth and claw scrapping.

Even BT, however, could not sit back and do nothing as Sky started destroying its subscriber base with the “triple play” offering of TV, broadband and home phone. To make it worse, where once Sky had relied on satellite dishes to reach customers, now it was using cabling installed by that very same BT.

The come-ons for those signing up to Sky were movies and sport. Relying on technology to stem the tide was not enough – people put hardware second and the ability to watch films and football first.

What’s clear from Sir Mike is that BT treated the Olympics as a warming-up exercise, a soft launch of its new approach. If the company’s involvement in the Games had been a flop there might have been a rethink. As it was, the decision to back London 2012, taken by Sir Mike and the then CEO Ian Livingston, and masterminded in practice by Livingston’s successor Gavin Patterson, soon proved to be an unalloyed triumph.

BT was the official communication services partner. This saw the firm host the London 2012 website which had more than 450m visits – four times the number that went on the previous Beijing Games site. While this and other statistics for broadband and mobile traffic were impressive, BT went further, creating live big-screen sites in parks across the country and laying on free music concerts from the likes of Blur and Snow Patrol. These, and more, earned BT a largely unnoticed accolade. According to a TLG/Populus survey, politicians and business leaders named BT as the company that made the greatest corporate contribution to the success of the Games, and it came second in terms of greatest positive change to its reputation as a result of sponsoring the Games.

Patterson describes London 2012 as a “light bulb moment”. It was a warning Sky would have done well to heed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada