BT has announced a partnership deal with YouTube that will see the final of the European Champions League soccer competition streamed live on the freely available website.
The UK operator has described the move as a part of its "wider digital strategy" but is under pressure to address criticism that Champions League viewing figures have dropped since the competition moved to BT.
Matches were previously available through Sky , the UK's biggest pay-TV provider, and on free-to-air services.
The number of customers subscribing to BT TV had risen from just 833,000 in mid-2013 to nearly 1.5 million in March this year, and the operator claims more than 5 million homes and 27,000 commercial premises currently receive BT Sport channels, which are available free of charge to any BT Broadband customer and through other pay-TV companies.
This remains a small fraction of the roughly 25.5 million UK households able to receive free-to-air services in March last year, according to figures from the UK's TV Licensing authority. And while Sky does not separate TV customers from those using broadband services, it was last year reported to have more than 12 million subscribers in total across the UK and Ireland.
In February, the UK's Telegraph newspaper reported that UEFA, the soccer organization that controls the rights, was rethinking its future auction options due to concern about low viewing figures at BT.
BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) had previously made some Champions League matches available through a freely available Showcase channel, but this is believed to have attracted little interest -- perhaps due to poor marketing.
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Under the new deal with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)-owned YouTube Inc. , however, the telco will screen the Showcase channel on YouTube for both the Champions League and lower-tier Europa League finals.
In one of the earliest examples of service "convergence" since its takeover of UK mobile giant EE , BT also indicated it would make a BT Sport channel available on mobile devices to EE customers before the start of the next soccer season in August.
BT announced its current three-year £897 million ($1.3 billion) deal to show European football matches in late 2013 and last year spent another £960 million ($1.4 billion) on rights to show matches from the popular English Premier League over the 2016-19 period. (See BT, Sky Splash £5.1B on Premier League Rights.)
That adds up to more than 60% of BT's full-year profit before tax in the last financial year.
Even so, while BT blamed expenditure on sports rights for a 13% year-on-year rise in operating costs at its BT Consumer business in the January-to-March quarter, it still managed to increase operating profits by 2%.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading