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ESPN in UK rights sell off talks

Sports broadcaster ESPN is reportedly in talks to sell its UK sports rights as speculation over the future of its UK channels mount.

ESPN UK lost out on Premiership Football and other rights following BT's entry to the sports rights market last year. Coverage of Premier League matches on ESPN UK ends this May, leaving the channel with a reduced portfolio of sports rights.

According to a report in media journal Broadcast today, the broadcaster is now in negotiations with other parties, thought to include BT and Sky, to sell its remaining rights to events including FA Cup and SPL matches. Any transfer of rights would have to approved by the relevant authorities who originally awarded the rights to ESPN.

The reports have raised fears that ESPN's UK channels might close following the end of the current football season.

ESPN has been on air in its current format since 2009, when it acquired numerous sports rights following Setanta's collapse in June of that year. Before then, it operated ESPN America as a standalone channel showcasing sport from its U.S. service.

Further doubts as to the future of premium sport on Digital Terrestrial TV 
On digital terrestrial TV, the main ESPN channel is broadcast on channel 34. There is ongoing uncertainty over the future of ESPN and the BT-hosted Sky Sports channels delivered alongside the Freeview signal, with BT last month announcing that it would restrict sports channel subscriptions to viewers with BT Infinity broadband, through which BT Vision will broadcast  a package of pay TV channels from later this year.

Top Up TV currently offers ESPN alongside the BT hosted Sky Sports channels to subscribers with Freeview. It could be left without any channels unless it announces new carriage deals. This could prove disappointing to viewers who might otherwise be forced to sign a contact with Sky, Virgin, BT or TalkTalk to continue to watch premium sport - or go with Sky's recently announced £9.99 per day pay-as-you-go offering via Now TV.

Update: on the 6th February 2013, ESPN owner Disney confirmed it was looking at exiting the UK sports rights market, indicating a likely closure of the ESPN UK channel.


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