Champions League fans using eir Sport to watch the Atletico vs RB Leipzig quarter-final got an unpleasant shock when the feed was suddenly pulled.
Virgin Media, which owns the rights to show Champions League games on Irish television, tweeted the following extraordinary statement: "We have suspended our supply of Virgin Media Sport and Virgin Media Sport Extra to eir Sport because eir has failed to pay the contracted distribution licence fee." It then huffily advised frustrated viewers to contact Eir customer care at a given number and email address.
What on earth happened for such a dramatic interjection late on a Thursday night?
It seems that the row is over whether broadcasters should still have to pay full whack in sporting content fees for the last six months, despite almost no sport taking place. Indeed, this is exactly what eir said in the emailed reaction I got from them Thursday night: "Eir Sport can only pay for the sports events that actually take place. We have consistently offered fair terms to each of our live sports content providers to reflect the reduced timetable. However, Virgin Media has not agreed to updated terms and has taken the unreasonable step of unilaterally withholding their feed from Virgin Media Sports viewers on the Eir network."
Virgin insiders claim that the seven-figure sums involved simply can’t be waived away and that Eir is an over-aggressive re-negotiator. But Eir insiders say that it’s ludicrous to insist on every last penny being handed over in such unprecedented disruptive circumstances.
So where will it go from here? When calm heads prevail, it’s hard to imagine that a deal won’t be done. Eir might agree to more than they were initially willing to pay, but it seems very unlikely that Virgin will now get every last penny, especially with that kind of PR gun pointed in Eir’s face.
What’s interesting is that the deal between Eir and Virgin isn’t just Virgin Media content being available on Eir’s platform, but also involves Eir Sport programming being available on Virgin Media's channels. Unless a deal gets done, it’s not inconceivable that Eir might yank their own channel content.