Virgin Media has finally struck a deal to offer broadband and TV rival BT’s three new sports channels.
Launched on August 1st, the channels offer football fans 38 Barclays Premier League matches per season.
Broadcast from the Olympic Park in East London, they also carry exclusive Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) coverage and will offer fans 800 hours of live tennis, including the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships.
BT is offering the channels free to its 6.4m broadband customers on their computers and via smartphone and tablet apps.
In addition, customers with a BT Vision+ or YouView set top box connected to BT’s infinity broadband will be able to watch the channels on their TVs.
The company is also making the channels available for free to its broadband customers who have a Sky+ box and to Sky broadband and TV subscribers in return for a monthly fee.
Virgin Media’s failure to agree a deal has seen it targeted by both Sky and BT in recent weeks, with each seeking to lure its customers away with competing offers.
Last month Sky offered to buy a BT Sport subscription for any Virgin Media customer who switched their TV and broadband services to the satellite giant.
Over the past few months Virgin Media customers have expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of a deal amid fears that they would lose access to some sports.
Subscribers to its XL package have become used to free Premier League football thanks to the inclusion of the ESPN family of channels. Non-XL and Sky customers pay £10 per month for the channels which cease broadcasting in their current form on July 31st.
After ESPN failed to retain any league rights in the last auction, it was eventually bought out by BT which has merged its rights into the new channels and retained a single ESPN branded channel which it offers alongside BT Sport 1 and BT Sport 2.
The deal covers a three year period and allows Virgin Media to offer BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN to customers taking their XL TV package.
Customers on lower packages will need to pay £15pm for the channels as a separate add-on.
Marc Watson, BT TV chief executive said: “I am delighted we have signed a deal with Virgin Media that increases the audience for BT Sport to around three million homes overnight. BT is rewarding its loyal customers with free sport and it is great to see Virgin Media immediately making BT Sport available to so many of their customers.”
Virgin Media is understood to have paid ESPN around £3 per month to bundle its channels to XL customers. Financial terms for the deal with BT have not been disclosed, however Watson said the agreement with Virgin “recognises the excellence of the channels” and BT’s “large investment” in its sport offering.
He added: “We are keen to make our services as widely available as possible and to do so via wholesale arrangements. We are doing this with Sport.”
Dana Strong, Virgin Media’s chief operating officer, said: “Virgin Media homes are kicking-off the new season with the most complete sporting line-up around in one simple subscription, from Barclays Premier League football and Aviva Premiership rugby to F1, live golf and the culmination of a great Ashes series. We’re excited to announce our deal with BT, making these fantastic new channels available at no extra cost to millions of Virgin TV viewers and in HD as standard.”