Latest TV deal offers consumers more choice
Irish households' TV choices look set to increase after telecoms firm Eir announced the takeover of Setanta Sports, the Irish broadcaster that shows Premier League football and Formula 1 racing.
The multi-million euro move is part of a new bid by Eir to win a chunk of the 1m Irish TV subscribers held by Sky and Virgin, many of whom currently pay up to €100 per month to watch telly.
"Up to now, we've been selling our TV service on price and value" Eir chief executive Richard Moat told the Irish Independent. "But now it will also be with exclusive content through Setanta. This changes our positioning."
The emergence of a third commercial television player in Ireland is set to put pressure on Virgin and Sky to freeze annual price increases for its combined 1m Irish TV subscribers.
Earlier this month, Sky raised its basic TV prices by 2.7pc. Sky and Virgin Media, formerly known as UPC, control 80pc of the Irish television market.
Subscription TV broadcasters are already under pricing pressure in Ireland. Recent figures from Comreg show up to 100,000 Irish TV subscribers have cut their bills by moving to the subscription-free television service Saorview in the last two years.
And low-cost competition for movies and television series from internet streaming service Netflix has added to their battle, with an estimated 150,000 subscriptions here.
Furthermore, Irish people are starting to watch less live television. Figures from Comreg show that 5pc of us have either cut down or stopped watching live and scheduled TV altogether, mainly due to streaming services.
Nevertheless, the Comreg figures show that four out of five Irish households still choose either Sky or Virgin, with Sky having roughly twice as many television customers as Virgin.
And the average cost of a television subscription with Sky or Virgin is estimated to be more than €50 per month, with some sports and movie packages exceeding €100 per month.
The Eir takeover bid for Setanta Sports must go before the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission for approval. It also has to be approved by the Minister for Communications.
The move comes as Virgin formally completed its takeover of TV3 in an €80m deal.
However, Eir bosses said that Setanta won't pull its sports content from rivals such as Virgin in the near future.
"Contracts with Virgin and Sky will stay in place for the time being," said Jon Florsheim, Eir director of TV. "There's a while yet to develop our plan."
Setanta currently has more than 500,000 customers in Ireland through its presence on Sky, Virgin and Eir TV. A "smaller fraction" of this number subscribes to Setanta's premium content, such as English football, according to Setanta co-founder Mickey O'Rourke.
As part of its acquisition of Setanta, Meteor and Eir subscribers may soon be offered Premier League matches or Formula 1 races as part of their mobile or broadband deals.
While Setanta shows a variety of sport content, English Premier League football remains the jewel in its crown. It bought the rights to broadcast the games in Ireland through BT Sport. Earlier this year, Sky and BT agreed to pay €7bn for the rights to broadcast Premier League football over three years between 2016 and 2019.