BT Deal With Virgin Media on Sport Channels Triples Viewership

Virgin Media Plc, the U.K. pay-TV provider bought by John Malone’s Liberty Global Plc this year, will offer BT Group Plc’s new sport channels this week, more than tripling the number of BT Sport viewers.

The three-year wholesale deal was signed in time to provide the channels to Virgin Media TV customers before the Premier League soccer season begins this weekend, according to a BT statement today.

The accord “increases the audience for BT Sport to around three million homes overnight,” BT TV Chief Executive Marc Watson said in the statement. “We are keen to make our services as widely available as possible and to do so via wholesale agreements.”

It’s the first such agreement BT Sport has signed for the channels, which debuted Aug. 1. More than 1 million British households are equipped already for the BT Sport and ESPN channels, according to the statement. BT, the biggest fixed-line phone operator in the U.K., offers the channels free to its broadband subscribers, who can also stream them on the Web and through applications for mobile phones.

The Virgin Media agreement is another strike against pay-TV rival British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, which has been battling it out with BT over sports rights. BSkyB has fought back, bringing on David Beckham to star in a new Sky Sports ad campaign. It will also broadcast matches on the first day of the Premier League’s soccer season free to customers who don’t subscribe to its sports channels already.

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