Sky Sports via DTT faces the axe as BT goes online
BT Vision has so far consisted of a hybrid service containing Freeview channels from a subscriber's normal TV aerial, plus additional content via broadband. The two Sky Sports channels are currently hosted by BT on DTT.
BT has been limiting subscriptions to Sky Sports 1, 2 and ESPN to viewers in BT Infinity enabled areas since last September. From the 22nd February, the channels will only be sold to those BT Vision viewers who actually have, or take a BT Infinity package. This has fueled speculation that BT will remove Sky Sports 1 and 2 off DTT by the end of the current football season.
The sports channels are set to be transmitted to viewer's set top boxes in the future via BT's superfast broadband network, which is deemed cheaper than broadcasting via DTT. Sky Sports 1, 2 and ESPN will join a host of pay TV channels being added to the BT Vision online service this year including Alibi, British Eurosport, Gold, MTV, Nat Geo, VH-1 and Watch.
Sky Sports 1 and 2 appeared on channels 41 and 42 of the Freeview Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) in the summer of 2010 following a ruling by Ofcom which enabled BT to offer Sky Sports 1 and 2 on a more favourable wholesale basis from Sky. The two channels are currently transmitted alongside the Freeview signal on the Arqiva B commercial multiplex, which reaches around 90% of UK homes.
ESPN is provided on DTT channel 34 by Top Up TV. Until now, BT Vision viewers have been able to access ESPN via Top Up TV's signal and Top Up TV viewers have been able to subscribe to the BT-hosted Sky Sports channels through a wholesale deal with both parties.
The potential loss of the BT hosted Sky Sports 1 and 2 puts Top Up TV's future in doubt, as it will be left with just ESPN as last remaining premium pay TV channel. Top Up TV's other services have mostly been withdrawn or wound down, with its on-demand TV Favourites service no longer available to new subscribers.
There's been no indication to date that Top Up TV will host the Sky Sports channels themselves, and although there were initial reports last year that BT was considering making its new sports channels available to Freeview viewers as a pay TV add-on service, there has been no indication so far if BT is still planning to do this using its two slots on DTT after Sky Sports 1 and 2 are removed.