BSkyB to share EPL TV rights with Setanta; total bids hit £ 1.7 billion

MUMBAI: A move that was forced by a tough European competition commissioner has ultimately yielded a veritable bonanza for Britain's top soccer clubs. And broken the monopoly Rupert Murdock's DTH operator BSkyB enjoyed over English Premier Leagus (EPL), home to such clubs as Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool.

BSkyB has won the telecast rights to four of the six EPL packaged that were up for grabs for three years starting from 2007. But it has had to cough up a staggering £ 1.314 billion for the privelege. The six broadcast packages generated £ 1.706 billion ($3.16 billion) in total, with Irish pay-TV operator Setanta's £ 392 million bid winning it the rights to the two remaining packages. The bidding was for 138 games in all.

BSkyB will be paying nearly twice as much per game (£4.8 million as against £2.5 million) and losing the 14-year stranglehold it has had on top flight soccer in the UK in the bargain.

The upside for Sky is that it has been able to cherry pick the best four of the six packages on offer. It has won the coveted "A" package of matches, which are played late on Sunday afternoons. It also has the rights for early afternoon Saturday and Sunday matches, as well as a group to be played midweek and on bank holidays. Additionally, with Setanta a broadcaster that is already available on its platform, it will still be able to offer its subscribers the "total football" promise that has been the underpinning of its success.

As far as Britain's soccer bosses are concerned, there is more to come from its EPL property since the rights it has auctioned were for just the UK territory. According to media reports, the sale of remaining rights - overseas, near-live, highlights, mobile - could swell the final figure to as high as £ 2.5 billion.

The biggest loser from all this, however, could well be the viewer, which would negate the logic that was behind the European competition commissioner's insistence that the Premier League end Sky's monopoly on live television rights in the first place - introduce more choice for viewers. The £1.7 billion tab that Sky and Setanta have toted up between them will ultimately mean that fans will ultimately pay more to watch matches in the UK.

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