The battle for Premier League subscribers is about to kick-off

Most might have already declared a time of death on linear TV, but for sports fans there is nothing better. Over the next couple of weeks prepare to see some aggressive ads and deals to secure subscriptions.

With the rise of content platforms like Netflix, short-form videos on YouTube and the decreasing price of mobile connectivity, linear TV has faced its challenges. It is still alive, but the digital economy is a different world and does not seem to be welcoming for traditional TV.

That said, one genre is still thriving; sports. Delving deeper, football is the one of the areas which will keep linear TV alive.

It isn’t really a topic which has been discussed over the last couple of months, but the Premier League is set to kick off in a matter of weeks. While there will be skirmishes to secure the services of the latest prima donna, in the telco world of TMT another battle is set to begin; the fight for subscriptions.

The first move has been made by Virgin Media, and it is an impressive one.

After years of watching consumers time with a sub-standard TV platform, Virgin Media finally seems to have sorted itself out. It has secured an acceptable level of content, revamped its user experience and now offers bundled packages which do look attractive. But the focus of this article will be football and why Virgin Media dining at the top table for content.

For £65 per month, Virgin Media customers will be able to secure the Bigger+Sports bundle which incorporates both Sky Sports and BT Sports into the platform as well as broadband. Another interesting element is Amazon Prime, which has been integrated into the service, though customers will have to pay a separate subscription.

Adding in the cost of Amazon Prime, the total bill for all Premier League, Champions League and Europa League football throughout the season will be £72.99 a month. This might sound expensive, but history has demonstrated fans are willing to pay a premium for access to live sports.

Another added benefit from Virgin Media is having everything in one place. There is no need to switch between services and navigate through the new platform, it is a genuine aggregator for football fans.

“Sports fans looking for their football fix next season need to look no further than Virgin Media,” said David Bouchier, Chief Digital Entertainment Officer at Virgin Media. “We’re, once again, bringing all of the football to Virgin TV in a single place with the cheapest UK packages all underpinned by our unrivalled ultrafast broadband.”

Looking at the new landscape for football viewing this year, BT has arguably fallen to the bottom of the pile. It has secured 52 matches across the season, though these are the less attractive 12.30 kick-off times on a Saturday and 15 mid-week games throughout the season. Sky Sports will host 128 matches, including all the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon games. Amazon has played somewhat of a blinder, securing the Boxing Day games.

Fragmentation of football has been an issue for years hence the strong position Virgin Media has put itself in as a genuine aggregator of football content for the up-coming season. Then of course you have to take into consideration the price.

Looking at the like-for-like deals available, it is a bit complicated. If you sign-up for 18 months, you can get Sky Sports for $18 a month, though this is on-top of the £22 a month which will need to be paid for the Entertainment package, and whatever tariff is selected for broadband services (you don’t have to do this but it makes it like for like). Once you are a customer, you can sign-up for BT Sport through the platform which costs £27.99 a month.

Suddenly watching the football is becoming quite expensive, and then you have to factor in the cost of Amazon Prime as well. You can do this the other way around with BT, costing £49.99 a month including broadband for an 18-month contract, but then you have to buy Sky Sports for £22.99 a month and then Amazon Prime.

This is of course a massive U-turn for Virgin Media. Your correspondent was a customer of Virgin Media in a by-gone year, and quite frankly, it wasn’t great. The internet service was OK, and the TV was thrown in for free as there was no justification for paying. This does now seem to have been fixed, though rumours are the service does suffer during peak periods.

The next couple of weeks you will start to see the advertising campaigns kick-in. With the Ashes starting very soon a big summer of sport can be expected. This will also be tied in with university studies heading into their new accommodation in August and September. There is going to be a scrap over who can secure the most subscriptions with sport as the headline feature, though Sky is not necessarily in pole position anymore.

Of course, this is only one element of the decision-making mix, but it is a critical one. You do have to take into account Sky and BT can offer other benefits for customers, including mobile connectivity, though access to top-flight football will certainly be a draw for the millions of fans throughout the country.

Virgin Media will most likely focus advertising on the aggregator platform, Sky will of course talk about football but also all the other sporting content it can bring to the living room. BT might persist with Kevin Bacon, leaning on its connectivity assets. The winner is far from clear, but it promises to be an interesting Summer.