BT believes this is the year it claims British sport

Marc Watson chats Premier League, 4K and British tech

Why this is the year that BT claims British sport

2013 is the year that BT goes all in. Come August it will go head to head with Sky by launching its own rival sports service, BT Sport, offering 38 exclusive live football matches from the Barclays Premier League and a tonne of other sports available across its two channels. It's a market that has long been dominated by Sky, but BT has its own unique kicker - the service is free for its Broadband customers.

And despite both Setanta's and (before it was bought by BT) ESPN's previous failed attempts to break Sky's stronghold, there's an air of confidence about Marc Watson, chief executive of TV at BT Retail. "We're feeling very optimistic," he tells us. "We think there's a really big opportunity to expand the market."

He even bats away suggestions that Sky's retaliations, including offering its first free-to-air live Premiership League match on the first day of the season, are a cause for concern. "We think it's a really good endorsement of the model we've developed and we think it's a positive," he says.

"I think it's great. I think they should do more free actually. I think it's a model the customers like and we'd encourage them to roll that model out across more of their products."

BT's plan is to bring in the masses by waving the "free" banner although you'll need to be an existing BT Broadband customer to enjoy the service charge-free (and pay £3 a month for HD if you sign up after August 1). Those with Sky broadband, meanwhile, can get BT Sport for £15 a month in HD or £12 a month for standard, with a one-off activation fee of £15.

"What I'm hoping it will do is bring more customers into the market who want to watch this sport. Sky is doing one day for free. If [customers] want to watch this kind of sport going forward then there's only one company that's free all the time and that's us," says Watson.

"Only one in five households in the UK take premium sports at the moment," he adds. "And that's not because only one in five households are interested in sports, but because only one in five households can afford the premium sport that's been out there so far."

Vantage point

It's been by standing on the sidelines that BT has been able to plot its attack on the market, and now it's ready to strike. But the proof will be in the BT pudding. Although it's keeping cagey on the numbers right now, Watson is able to tell us that they're "very pleased with the progress so far" in terms of uptake for the service.

Still, Watson agrees that it remains a challenging market. "And the regulation of the UK market is very unbalanced," he adds. But BT's vision is long term, and goes well beyond the two channels it will be offering from August.

"The main difference is that [ESPN and Setanta] only had one product to sell which was the channel," he says. "We're a big business with a bulk of products to sell to customers. And the reason we're interested in sport is because we think it can help us sell our range of products to customers."

Marc Watson
Watson is confident that BT has the upper hand

BT believes that it can use its sports service to demonstrate the power of its superfast broadband. "There's a lot of money - £3 billion almost - rolling out for superfast broadband around the UK," says Watson.

"The fastest superfast broadband anywhere in the world. That's a network that's primed and ready to go. And one of the things we can use sport for is to showcase that network. We'll be looking at features and ideas and innovations that help us to do that."