Thursday 27 October 2016

No chance of late deal between Virgin and Eir over sports channels

Published 04/08/2016 | 15:33

Tony Hanway of Virgin
Tony Hanway of Virgin

THE head of Virgin Ireland says there’s no going back on the decision not to carry Eir Sport and BT Sport channels in the coming year.

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“We think we made the right call,“ said Tony Hanway today. “We weren’t going to pay more for less. Eir Sport is not an integral part of Virgin Media’s offering. It never was and it never will be.”

The standoff between Virgin and Eir, which occurred over a dispute about how much Virgin would pay Eir to carry its newly branded Eir Sport channels, means that Virgin customer cannot see certain sports events such as Manchester United matches in the Europa League.

However, Mr Hanway said that cancellations of Virgin subscriptions have been limited to “a handful”.

“There has not been a widespread impact on our customer base,” he said.

And he suggested that viewing figures for Eir Sport exclusive events such as the Europa League were smaller than most people thought. He said that Liverpool’s Europa League quarter final match against Borussia Dortmund earlier this year attracted no more than 10,000 viewers.

“The Europa League and a lot of the other content Eir Sport has are niche,” he said. “While that is important to small subsets of customers, in the greater scheme of things, most people will always plump for faster broadband and the majority of decent premium sports channels at the right price.”

In June, Eir rebranded Setanta Sports as Eir Sport. It announced that it would give free access to six sports channels, carrying Setanta content and BT Sport content that includes Premier League football, over Eir broadband subscriptions. However, the telecoms company still wants to commercialise the content with other television carriers.

Mr Hanway said that he does not want to get into a “slagging match” with Eir over the issue.

“We don’t want to disparage Eir,” he said. “We certainly won't be going out there putting their name on our advertisements. That’s the lowest common denominator in marketing.”

Mr Hanway also said that Virgin Ireland was unlikely to pursue any more television acquisitions after its recent takeover of TV3 and UTV Ireland.

“There’s nothing in the pipeline,” he said. “We only acquired TV3 before Christmas last year and with UTV Ireland, we probably have enough on our hands in terms of TV. So we definitely don't have anything planned. That said, we’re always in the market for good assets that add value to our portfolio.”

He said that Virgin would “do a good job” with UTV Ireland, if given regulatory clearance to complete the acquisition by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

“Hopefully we will get the clearance process [for TV3] approved, so we’re not being arrogant about it. But we feel it’s the right move for the industry and that we’ll do a good job with that asset.”

Mr Hanway said that Virgin’s new mobile offering was currently experiencing slow growth.

“It’s relatively flat,” he said. “But we’re making money and I’m happy that we’re up and running in mobile. I think quarter four is where we will grow strongly in mobile. The catalyst from here on in is the launch of devices and 4G. Up to now, we’ve been a sim only offering. But we’ll have all the good devices now and we think that our own customer base will gravitate more towards these plans.”

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