BT’s decision to end free sport for most of its BT TV customers appears to be the key driver behind a slight fall in the number of households taking the platform.
The firm’s third quarter results revealed that its TV customer base fell by 5,000 customers in the three months ending December 2017.
While the drop-off looks dramatic when compared to the platform’s addition of 52,000 customers in the same quarter of last year, the total customer base stands at 1.8m, up on 1.7m the year before.
The fall in sign-ups is also offset by changing customer behaviour, with a greater proportion of new joiners signing up to higher tier packages than was previously the case.
While the decision to start charging for BT Sport appears to have lost the firm some TV customers, the channels recorded their highest post-launch quarterly growth in viewing – up 23% year on year – thanks to their exclusive coverage of both the Champions League and Ashes.
Marc Allera, head of BT’s consumer division, said he was “encouraged” by the growth which is expected to continue next year when Sky is able to offer BT Sport to its customers under a previously announced content swap which also allows BT to sell Sky’s entertainment, movie and sports content to BT TV users.
Asked by analysts why BT had agreed to provide BT Sport to its biggest rival, Allera said he was keen “to get the product viewed by as many customers as possible irrespective of the platform.”
Gavin Patterson, the firm’s group CEO, said there’d been “a realisation on both sides that this was the right time to do the deal” which he described as “ultimately good for customers” who’d now be able to get the “full set of content” via their preferred platform.
Paolo Pescatore, VP, Multiplay and Media at CCS Insight, agreed that the Sky/BT would be “great for consumers and means that they will no longer have to sign up to different providers.”
He added: “The agreement, however, means more to BT giving its ailing TV service. In reality it will be at least a year before this comes into effect and lot can happen over the next 12 months.
“BT must address some fundamental issues such as ongoing consumer line loss, a TV platform that lacks content and is not heavily promoted.
“The BT Sport service still remains hugely successful which BT must leverage across its assets. Furthermore it must continue in driving innovation as a way of standing out in a crowded and cut throat market.