Disney-owned sports web ESPN will launch a U.K. channel to showcase its recently acquired English Premier League soccer games on Rupert Murdoch’s satcaster BSkyB.
But the pay TV rivalry off the field is likely to be as fierce as anything between the soccer clubs.
Called simply ESPN, the web will bow Aug. 3. It will offer 46 Premier League soccer games, bought from the league when Irish sports paybox Setanta recently went bust and was forced to return the rights (Daily Variety, June 19). It will also air international sports and premium U.S. sports.
Cabler Virgin Media and hybrid Internet protocol TV service BT Vision, owned by telco British Telecom, argue that Setanta’s financial failure was partly due to BSkyB’s dominance in sports pay TV. They have persuaded communications watchdog Ofcom to examine competition in the pay TV market.
Ofcom is already threatening to force BSkyB to wholesale its premium channels, including Sky Sports, at prices it would set with the satcaster.
BSkyB has said it will fight the regulator all the way to the courts.
ESPN, replacing ESPN America, will be available in standard and high definition — the company’s first HD channel in Europe.
ESPN Classic will continue to be available.
Sky Sports’ inhouse production team will produce ESPN’s Premier League matches. Advertising sales for ESPN and ESPN Classic will be handled by Sky Media.