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Old 21st July 2007, 12:01   #1
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Default Virgin Media to air Setanta's football coverage

Virgin Media to air Setanta's football coverage
By Ben Fenton
FT July 21 2007

Football fans, who never have much trouble deciding which team they want to watch, will have increasing difficulty deciding how they are going to watch it in the coming season.

Setanta, the Irish sport broadcaster, yesterday announced a deal for Virgin Media to carry content from six of its channels, including 46 live English Premiership games, on its cable network.

BSkyB, which until this season had exclusive rights to the top league, will show the remaining 92 games that can be broadcast live.

Malcolm Wall, chief executive of content for Virgin Media, said subscribers to its top-tier XL package would be able to see their favourite Premiership teams without any extra charge to their existing 20.50-a-month subscription.

Analysts believe Virgin Media will be paying Setanta between 2 and 2.50 per subscriber per month. Setanta, which paid 392m when it bought a third of the live rights to Premiership games in 2006, is eager to raise its subscriber base from about 250,000 to the target of 1m it set for 2008.

"There was already confusion in the market place because the rights were split when the European authorities stepped in to say that rights to Premiership matches must be split," Mr Wall said. "People can subscribe to Sky Sports on Virgin Media and for a total cost of 38.50 [a month] they can have access to all the live Premiership games."

Subscribers to BSkyB have to pay 9.99 a month, on top of a present 34 package, to get up to nine Setanta channels.

Michael O'Rourke, who with joint chief executive Leonard Ryan founded Setanta in 1990, said: "We have already re-enfranchised 8m Freeview homes who previously could not get live Premiership football, and being able to bring Virgin Media XL subscribers the same offer effectively for free is a fantastic thing for us." Virgin Media expects to make its money back by persuading more of its 1.9m "M" and "L"tier subscribers to upgrade to "XL" and by reducing "churn" - the coming and going of customers - as well as luring awayclients from BSkyB, their main rival.

Claire Enders, of Enders Analysis, said: "Breakeven or better from this investment will take at least a year or 18 months, but it is a good riposte to Sky in customer terms."
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