UPC to spend €20m to win back clients


CABLE TV operator UPC Ireland, which owns NTL and Chorus, is spending €20 million in a bid to win back subscribers from its main rival in the Irish market, satellite broadcaster Sky.

UPC has paid €10 million to secure content two-year deals with American premium sports channel ESPN and with Britain’s ITV, in a move that will add nine channels to its digital TV packages. Details of these deals will be unveiled today.

The company is also planning a €10 million marketing blitz in the first six months of 2010 to try and win new customers to its TV services.

Under the deal with ESPN, UPC will carry the pay sports channel for free on its ‘‘max’’ and ‘‘select’’ digital packages along with ESPN America. This will give UPC subscribers access at no extra charge to ESPN’s 46 live English Premier League football matches on Saturdays, rights that the American company won after Setanta Sports folded in Britain earlier this year.

ESPN also carries FA Cup football and Guinness premiership rugby.

ESPN normally costs €12 a month and so will save UPC customers €144 a year in comparison to a Sky subscription. UPC already offers Setanta Sports Ireland for free on its digital services so its customers will get access to more than 50 live FA premier league games at no extra cost. This is likely to prove very attractive to sports fans.

In addition, UPC is planning to reduce the cost of subscribing to Sky Sports through its cable platform by about €2 a month. This will make it cheaper than taking Sky directly from the satellite provider.

“We are really trying to position ourselves as the home of live sport at a good price point,” said Mark Coan, UPC’s sales and marketing director.

“It’s a big investment for us and ESPN is the key one.”

Mr Coan estimates that consumers will save €300 on their sports subscriptions by switching to UPC.

UPC has also agreed a deal to carry ITV2, 3 and 4 on its digital service. These channels are not currently available to Sky subscribers in Ireland. ITV2 is the most popular digital channel in Britain.

These moves by UPC are aimed at stemming the flow of TV customers to Sky in recent years. At the end of September 2009, UPC had 509,900 TV customers. This was 8,800 fewer than at the end of June 2009.

By contrast, Sky has made great strides over the past five years and currently has more than 600,000 subscribers in Ireland, overtaking UPC as the biggest provider of pay TV here.

Sky’s success of late has been based around cut-price offers for its set-top boxes and high-definition services. The Rupert Murdoch-controlled broadcaster plans to launch 3D in Ireland this year.

UPC’s marketing campaign will kick off shortly, with a high-profile sports personality leading the charge.

Mr Coan said UPC would be focusing heavily on rural areas, where it has lost a large number of customers to Sky in recent years.