BT Sport reports encouraging subscriber statistics

BT Sport has dominated media headlines this year – from the quick build and launch of its studio centre in east London, to taking on Sky Sports by outbidding it for Premier League football and Premiership rugby rights and offering this and other coverage on three channels free to BT broadband customers. That dominance continues with the release of figures showing that over two million subscribers have signed up for the new broadcaster’s services.

Technology has also been a major part of BT Sport’s campaign. Rather than Sky’s flashy adoption of new technologies like 3D and 4k, BT Sport has focused on new styles of presentation from its L-shaped studio, transmitted on both HD and SD channels. It is also the UK’s first broadcaster to use an all-digital, file-based production chain from the start and is the first to be fully compliant with specifications laid out by the Digital Production Partnership (DPP).

From its launch on 1 August BT Sport now claims to be available in four million homes. Of this two million are retail subscriber customers to the BT Sport 1 and 2 and ESPN package watching on a number of platforms including satellite, BT TV, online and a mobile app. The remaining two million comes through BT Sport’s arrangement with cable operator Virgin Media.

These encouraging figures are tempered by low audiences for some of BT Sport’’ programmes. The much-heralded magazine show fronted by flavour of the year Clare Balding picked up an average of only 1,200 viewers for early editions. BT’s new chief executive, Gavin Patterson, said some shows were still “building audiences”, but pointed to viewing figures for rugby that were higher than those for Sky when it had the rights.

BT Sport’s studios are managed by Timeline Television, which has specified the AmberFin iCR software platform for file playback, standards conversion and transcoding. All operations are now based on the DPP file format for digital exchange and workflows. “We chose AmberFin for the BT Sport project because we needed the highest-quality transcoding, QC and re-purposing available, delivered in the least possible time. This was essential in our design for the fast-turnaround workflow that lies at the heart of BT Sport,” commented Charlie Tear, technical director at Timeline TV. “AmberFin’s integrated DPP capabilities have helped BT Sport become the UK’s first fully DPP-compliant broadcast production hub.”

BT has always acknowledged that its foray into sport is partly a way to increase its share of the broadband market. Taking on Sky’s dominance in the UK market has proved tricky, as the BBC, ITV, Setanta and ESPN could all testify. While this is still an early point in BT Sport’s development, there is speculation that Gavin Patterson might be encouraged to increase investment in sport by pitching for rights to Champions League football and taking a greater proportion of Premier League matches away from Sky when new deals are negotiated. So BT Sport shows no sign of dropping out of the headlines just yet.

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