BSkyB Stock Drops 10 Percent as BT Wins European Soccer TV Rights Deal

2:48 AM PST 11/11/2013 by George Szalai

One analyst says the $1.44 billion deal struck by the telecom over the weekend ends the "peaceful co-existence" and escalates competition further.

BT's $1.44 billion weekend deal to air big European soccer matches that BSkyB and ITV currently have rights to further escalates and intensifies the competition for sports TV rights in Britain, analysts said Monday as BSkyB's stock dropped around 10 percent.

"This signals the end of peaceful co-existence in U.K telecom and pay TV," wrote Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Claudia Aspesi.

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He and others have closely monitored the showdown between BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake, and BT, since the latter announced the launch of sports channels and the acquisition of most of ESPN's U.K. business last year. BT last year also bid against BSkyB for rights to English Premier League soccer games and won some of the rights. It started airing them late this summer.

As of 10 a.m. London time, BSkyB's stock was down 9.8 percent after earlier dropping even further.

UBS analyst Polo Tang echoed the sentiment of an escalation.

"The move by BT will lead to broader concerns about rising content costs, particularly for the next cycle of Premier League rights," he said. "Investors will also be wary of an aggressive retaliation by BSkyB, such as free broadband that could impact the broader U.K. triple-play market."

As pay TV and telecom providers, BSkyB and BT have been able to outbid companies that only operate TV networks, since they can use sports as a subscriber acquisition and retention tool. 

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Analysts are split though on which company will be hurt more after the BT deal for European matches, including the popular Champions League, starting with the 2015-16 season.

"The end of peaceful co-existence may be least bad for BT as they have more to gain in broadband (more share, lower churn, higher average revenue per user) than everyone else," suggested Aspesi.

"For BSkyB, the implications are clearly negative," he continued. "In the near term, Sky saves money, although it may choose to reinvest some. Over time, however, if the cost of key rights escalates beyond what it can afford, this begs the question of what Sky stands for."

Tang, however, highlighted that BT's Champions League rights win came at a "massive cost."

"BT may struggle to break even on the incremental cost," he said.

Explained Tang: "Viewing for the free Tuesday Champions League match on ITV is typically 3-3.5 million [households], and BT would need to generate an average revenue per user of $14.25 (£8.90) per month from 3.5 million subscribers to break even."

He acknowledged that BSkyB will feel competitive pressures, including a likely "notable slowdown in broadband growth."

But he also concluded: "Given BSkyB has a much broader content offering than BT, we do not assume pay TV subscribers leave BSkyB for BT."

UBS analyst Tamsin Garrity argued that the loss of the European soccer rights wouldn't be a major hit to ITV's financials.

"ITV will save about $80 million (£50 million) per year from 2015, however this will be partially offset by replacement programming spend," she said. "This is not thesis changing for ITV in our view given its broad programming, audience and advertising base."

She added: "BT offered double the total previously paid by ITV for free TV and BSkyB for pay TV, therefore we argue it would have been uneconomical for ITV to have secured the free TV rights."

Added Garrity: "ITV is not reliant on [soccer] rights for audience share, achieving high audience and ad revenue from entertainment such as X Factor, I'm a Celebrity, Britain's Got Talent and drama such as Downton Abbey."

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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