BT demands ‘parity’ in Sky Sports spat

Marc Watson BTThe head of BT’s TV division Marc Watson has renewed the company’s calls for Sky to allow it to air Sky Sports 1 and 2 on its YouView platform, after Ofcom agreed to look into the matter earlier this month.

Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild event at the BT Tower today, Watson said that Sky’s refusal to license its two channels for its latest internet-connected model of set-top box was unjust and said it was waiting to see whether Ofcom will “fix” the issue in time for the new football season.

“There are lots and lots of rules regulating what we do at BT. If someone – a big company or a small company – approaches us and asks for access to our network, we don’t tell them to bog off and build their own – we give them access on reasonable terms.

“All we’re asking for is the same courtesy in TV and sport where Sky are presently dominant. They own 100% of the premium sports market. By any definition we think that is dominant. Parity is all we’re looking for,” said Watson.

He added: “We’ve been trying to resolve that commercially with them for months and months, but we’ve not been able to do that, and with the season fast approaching, we have put that into Ofcom and asked them to look at that.”

Ofcom said last week that it would launch an investigation into BSkyB’s practices in wholesaling its sports channels, after receiving a different complaint from BT in May on this issue. BT alleges that Sky has refused to provide Sky Sports 1 and 2 to BT on YouView on fair terms whilst providing them to other pay TV retailers such as TalkTalk.

However, Sky has dismissed the claims as “entirely without merit.” Speaking earlier this month, Sky’s group director of corporate affairs, Graham McWilliam, said that BT’s insistence that it be the exclusive seller of its own sports channels has been a sticking point.

“We simply want a level playing field whereby each company supplies its sports channels to the other so we can both offer our customers all Premier League football next season,” said McWilliam.

Responding to this wholesaling issue, Watson said: “I can see why if you look at it that way there’s, at face value, an apparent disparity, but we’re starting out, we’ve got no customers, we’re not dominant. We need the opportunity to get going and establish ourselves.”

BT is currently able to offer Sky Sports on its older generation of BT Vision set-top box, though BT YouView customers cannot at present get access to the channels. Sky customers will be able to access BT’s three forthcoming sports networks on the Sky platform, but must buy access to the channels directly through BT.