Sky deal adds power to BT Sport’s MotoGP contract bid

Picture: Bonnie Lane

If television relies on soaps to win viewers then racing fans are being given all the right ingredients by the broadcasters in their own power-assisted episode of Holby.

Beleaguered BT Sport looked odds-on to lose the MotoGP contract when its current deal ends on December 31. Indeed not to even compete for it as it fought what seemed to be a losing battle for supremacy in televised sport against bigger and more established competitors such as Sky, in the face of accelerating rights costs. Plus the firm was being told by its regulator to spend less on sport in order to invest more in improving the broadband network. The position was surely unsustainable.

But like every good script there was a twist in the tail. Out of nowhere the cavalry, in the shape of Sky, gallop to the rescue, offering BT access to its network. It is the lifeline BT badly needed but what is going on?

A gigantic power game is being played out in world media where traditional broadcasters are facing severe competition from newcomers Netflix and Amazon – not to mention Facebook and Google which can deliver live streaming.

Rather than fight each other, the giants are combining. And Sky’s parent company 21st Century Fox, controlled by Rupert Murdoch, is in the process of being taken over by Disney, giving the US company 40% of Sky and, effectively, control. BT is not serious competition to Sky, it is an irritant but it is not something that Sky would, or could, take over.

However, it has analysed BT’s problems which are a) it is a business facing huge external competition and is controlled by an unfriendly regulator and b) it has only 1.8 million households receiving sport. To survive it needs help - but from its main competitor?

While not wanting or being able to own it, and if you have to have competition, the better is the devil you know – particularly if you effectively control the distribution. And allowing BT access to Sky’s 12 million homes is not only a life saver it will allow Sky the opportunity to increase its subscription revenue and bargaining power.

So BT will be reappraising the situation on “minority” sports which have, so far, attracted abysmally low audiences - even the Ashes Test matches struggled to get past 100,000. The position on MotoGP, which in Italy is televised by Sky, is not finalised but it is reported that Eurosport owner Discovery has become less enthusiastic, opening the door for BT which can now answer Dorna’s complaint that it doesn’t attract a big enough audience.

But as with all soap operas it is the actors which supply most interest, the actors in this case being the presenters you see on screen. Seats are being shuffled, following multi exchanges of emails and opinions, and it is understood that ex-WorldSBK Champion Neil Hodgson will replace the departed Julian Ryder alongside Keith Huewen in the commentary box. Bosom buddies Suzi Perry and Craig Doyle will continue to share the main presenter role.

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