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BT buys ESPN’s UK and Ireland channels

UK telco BT has made yet another massive purchase in the UK television market, this time buying ESPN’s UK and Ireland TV channels business, bringing even more football to the BT Sport channels that it plans to launch this summer.

The transaction is expected to close by the end of July for an undisclosed amount, after which BT will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel as part of the BT Sport TV package.

ESPN’s UK and Ireland channels business mainly consists of the ESPN and ESPN America channels and their live sports rights portfolio, including the FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa League, and the German Bundesliga.

The deal will also allow BT to continue to show a host of US sports currently shown on ESPN America, including NCAA College Basketball, NCAA College Football and NASCAR.

The ESPN channels will be broadcast from BT Sport’s new home in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. Until completion, the service for current subscribers to the ESPN channels across all television platforms remains unchanged.

Marc Watson, chief executive of television, BT Retail, said: “We are delighted to have reached agreement with ESPN for the acquisition of their UK channels business and that we have been able to add some exciting new sports rights to the ones we already have.

“The FA Cup, Scottish Premier League and Europa League rights will allow us to offer customers of BT Sport even more quality live football, including our first games from the Scottish top flight and our first European competition rights. There will also be the best of US sports available courtesy of this deal, which will further broaden the appeal of BT Sport.”

ESPN will continue to own and operate its existing digital media businesses which include multisport news and information portal ESPN.co.uk, ESPNcricinfo (cricket), ESPNFC (football), ESPNscrum (rugby), ESPNF1 (Formula 1) and broadband streaming service ESPN Player.

ESPN Classic has been excluded from the proposed transaction, as owner Disney plans to wind down the channel throughout the EMEA region, along with the non-UK ESPN America TV businesses.

The newly-acquired channels join the broadcast rights that BT Sport has previously announced, which include 38 live Barclays Premier League matches in each of the next three seasons (beginning August 2013); 69 live Aviva Premiership Rugby matches for the next four seasons; and up to 800 hours per season of live women’s tennis, including the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships.

BT continued to inch closer towards the significant milestone of 1mn subscribers for its IPTV service ‘BT Vision in the fourth quarter of 2012, reaching a total of around 770,000, and also posted encouraging sales figures of YouView set-top boxes, with over 60,000 customers now using the devices.

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