Three companies pact to carry games

Reinforcing the notion that top-flight soccer remains the driver for pay TV and free TV, three European companies announced deals on Tuesday involving the sport.

In Blighty, British Telecom and Setanta are hoping to lure subscribers away from News Corp.’s giant BSkyB satcaster by offering free English Premier League soccer.

The matches, plus England international games, will be available on Setanta Sports 1 — free to BT Vision customers who subscribe to packages costing more than £14 ($28) a month.

BT Vision, a hybrid broadband-TV offering that bowed to much hype in December 2006, has failed to make any real dent in either BSkyB’s or cabler Virgin Media’s subscriber base. The service has attracted just 250,000 customers.

BT Vision CEO Dan Marks said: “Our compelling offer proves you don’t have to pay sky-high prices to watch top-flight football.”

In Germany, commercial broadcaster RTL Television has inked with pay TV operator Premiere to carry up to 18 matches of the FIFA 2010 World Cup soccer tournament (to be played in South Africa) exclusively on free TV.

RTL holds an option for another nine matches. Deal also includes exclusive broadcast rights for 18 games in Austria.

Premiere has the rights to all 64 World Cup games live on pay TV in Germany and Austria.

Record-breaking ratings during last month’s Euro 2008 soccer tournament “illustrated the enormous importance” of soccer for viewers, said RTL topper Anke Schaeferkordt.

Meanwhile, the Spanish government looks set to OK digital terrestrial pay TV, clearing the way for on-demand DTT soccer, it emerged at an industry confab in Madrid on Tuesday.

Approval would come as good news for Mediapro, which is a controlling shareholder in broadcaster La Sexta. It has already bought pay TV rights to European Championship League soccer from 2009-12. It plans to air the soccer by converting one of the digital channels that La Sexta has been awarded into a DTT pay TV outlet.

“We’re ready to request pay DTT as soon as the consensus period is over,” said La Sexta CEO Jose Miguel Contreras.

(Emiliano de Pablos in Madrid contributed to this report.)

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