BT TV CEO Marc Watson to Step Down

4:27 AM PST 03/26/2014 by Stuart Kemp

The veteran exec was with the U.K. telecom giant for seven years and brought it into fierce competition with rival pay TV operator BSkyB over sports rights.

LONDON – Marc Watson, CEO of BT TV, the pay TV division of the U.K. telecom giant, is to leave the company after seven years "to explore new opportunities."

Watson has led BT’s TV business since 2009, seeing it go head-to-head with rival pay TV operator BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox has a 39 percent stake, challenging for sports content.

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Watson, a lawyer by training, oversaw BT’s successful negotiations for exclusively live rights for the Barclays Premier soccer league, Aviva Premiership Rugby, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.

The exiting CEO, regarded as a smooth-yet-hard-nosed negotiator, has also overseen the growth of BT TV, a service now in more than 950,000 homes.

He has been at the heart of the launch and establishment of BT Sport, home of the telecom giant's sports channels.

Watson described his seven years with BT as "fantastic," saying the marketplace is "amazingly fast and dynamic."

He said he is "sad to leave but now is the right time for me to take on a fresh challenge."

He also made time for a parting reference to the rivalry with BSkyB, noting: "We have built a top-quality TV service from scratch and BT Sport is thriving thanks to the great live sport we’ve secured. I am sure the business will go from strength to strength and I wish everyone at BT well."

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John Petter, BT Consumer chief executive, thanked Watson "for helping us bring BT TV to a large audience and for helping us to launch BT Sport with the very best live sporting action, including top-tier football, rugby, tennis and MotoGP rights. He leaves with our best wishes for the future."

Watson's departure sparked speculation that the telecom giant may be considering a strategy change after its high-stakes entry into the pay TV arena and competition for content.

BT Group CEO Gavin Patterson said the departing CEO has been "at the heart of our TV strategy and I am sad to see him leave. He leaves BT TV in good health and we will continue to build on the strong foundations he has helped lay."

The search for a replacement managing director of BT TV and Sport is underway with BT considering external as well as internal candidates.

The stock prices of both BT and pay TV competitor BSkyB fell only slightly in a sign that investors didn't expect major strategy changes.

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