Virgin Media to drop Eir Sport and BT from cable offering
Pay TV group says price sought is too high for former package of Setanta and BT Sport channels
Luke Fitzgerald, Harry Redknapp, Kieran McGeeney and Robbie Fowler at the recent launch of Eir Sport, following the takeover of Setanta by Eir. Photograph: Inpho/Morgan Treacy
Virgin Media is set to drop Eir Sports from its cable TV platform at the end of this month after failing to agree commercial terms on a new wholesale arrangement for the pack of six channels, which includes BT Sport.
Instead, Virgin has signed a new multi-year deal with Sky to carry a range of its sports and entertainment channels, including its new station, Sky Sports Mix.
This channel will be offered as part of Virgin Media’s basic TV pack, replacing Setanta Sports (now Eir Sport), which it had carried since its launch in 2004.
Bill Blake, head of media content with Virgin Media, told The Irish Times that Eir Sport’s loss to Sky of the Irish rights to live English Premier League games on a Saturday afternoon and declining subscriber numbers were behind its decision to drop Eir Sport.
Virgin had 332,600 TV subscribers at the end of March but fewer than 30,000 subscribers to the Eir Sport package, with the numbers dropping by about one-third in the past year or so.
“We needed to agree commercial terms that were representative of those facts,” Mr Blake said. “We went through negotiations over the past six months but couldn’t agree terms. From a customers’ point of view, we wanted to get a deal that reflected the value of the pack.
“We have made every effort to agree commercial terms with Eir Sport that reflect the reduced value within their sports pack. However their pricing was excessive and simply wasn’t realistic relative to their content offering which has essentially been halved.”
Virgin Media’s customers paid €22 a month to subscribe to Eir Sport’s pack of channels.
Mr Blake said the “currency” of the Eir Sports pack was live English Premier League football. “That’s what people buy it for,” he said.
“Sky have 159 live and exclusive Premier League matches while, within the Eir pack, there’s 42. We’re pretty confident that our customers will recognise that the vast number of live Premier League games will be on our platform.”
Virgin, which also offers broadband and telephone services to customers, has also secured the rights to offer Sky’s channels on the go, which will allow customers to view the stations on mobile devices and tablets when they are not at home.
“Well be launching that next week,” Mr Blake said. “And we’ve got the rights to the Saturday 3pm [Premier League] games as well.”
Eir said it was available for “further talks” to ensure that Virgin Media’s customers “don’t miss out”.
Eir acquired Setanta Sports this year and rebranded the company earlier this month. In addition to Eir Sport 1 and 2, which carry a mix of local and international sports, its pack includes four BT sports channels from the UK.
Eir’s decision to offer its sports channels free to all of its own customers with a broadband bundle also played a role in the decision. “That was a concern but it wasn’t the deciding factor,” Mr Blake said.