Back in August, amid frantic media coverage of BT Sport’s low audience figures, I explained why these were only one of the criteria by which BT would judge the channels’ performance and success.
Last week doubters and the conventionally minded were made to confront their wrongness when BT announced its best broadband, phone and TV sign-up and retention rates in years.
As the charts below show, in the three months to September, the firm halved the number of phone customers who moved to another provider and grew subscribers to its broadband and TV services by more than any quarter in the past three years.
BT’s broadband sign ups – 156,000 – accounted for 93% of new broadband connections and its 70,000 new TV subscribers were almost double the number announced by Sky in its own recent trading update.
The results were so positive that even The Guardian, a paper which has seemed keener than keen to portray BT’s foray into sports broadcasting as a failure, reported them as good news. Some Guardian readers, having spotted the paper’s tendency towards negative coverage of BT Sport, used the comments below the results story to deservedly mock its sudden change of tone.
How wrong has media coverage been? Here’s a good example:
On the day BT and Virgin Media announced a deal for the cable company to offer BT Sports, The Guardian initially portrayed this as a welcome last minute breakthrough for a desperate newcomer.
But results posted by Virgin’s new owners Liberty Global show the UK cable firm had the most to gain from the deal.
In its most recent quarter it lost 12,600 TV subscribers and says performance was affected “by increased promotions by our competitors in connection with the launch of the new BT Sport channels in August.”
Its gains in TV came “following the addition of the BT Sport channels to our TV XL tier in August.”
The Guardian’s story was later rewritten to better reflect reality and the original seemingly vanished from the archive.
We still don’t know if BT Sport will be a success in the longterm, early gains could quickly plateau and a failure to keep key rights could see them reverse in just a couple of years.
But the initial good news means journalists no longer have an excuse to wrap the channels in downbeat coverage, something which is key if BT is to successfully position them as ‘must have’ premium content.
And it should also ensure BT has the confidence to bid for other major rights packages as they become available.
As with claims that there was no market for YouView, the British entertainment media called BT Sport wrong.
Perhaps the next time something new comes along they might want to pause and reflect on that uncomfortable fact before launching into a series of “Why it’ll fail’ features and stories.