When it comes to football, Sky is in a league of its own

Last week's fiasco during ITV's FA Cup football coverage was another reminder of how far ahead Sky is when it comes to covering our national game.

Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week
Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week

Viewers missed Everton's winning goal in a high-profile tie against Liverpool because ITV inexplicably shelled out to an ad break two minutes before the end of extra time. When pictures returned, Everton fans were celebrating the winner. It was not ITV Sport's finest hour.

When Setanta appeared, some observers predicted a serious challenge to Sky's football dominance. But in the latest round of Premier League rights negotiations finalised last Friday - for 2010-2013 - Sky won back one of Setanta's packages of 23 games, leaving the Irish broadcaster with just 23 of its own.

It's easy to forget what televised sport was like before Sky. The satellite pay-TV broadcaster was 20 this month and has been covering top-flight football for 17 of those years, since the inception of the Premier League in 1992. And it is football that has really driven the take-up of its subscriptions.

By the end of 2008, Sky had 9.2 million subscribers, in sight of its target of 10 million by 2010. It is signing up HD customers hand over fist and Sky+ has revolutionised TV viewing habits. It also has nearly two million broadband subscribers. Average revenue per user hit £444 in 2008, and that's before the company sold an ad.

The subscription model insulates Sky from the vagaries of the ad market. Indeed, in a recession, viewers are more likely to stay indoors and watch TV than go out.

Viewers have been enticed by the broadcaster's fresh approach to sport, which made even the BBC's coverage look old and dusty. Excellent presenters, 24-hour coverage, super-slo-mo, multi-screen, Fanzone and many other innovations define Sky football. And who would have thought watching four blokes watching football on a Saturday afternoon would make compelling viewing. But Jeff Stelling and his team have established an effective format that has been copied by other broadcasters.

Some initiatives didn't work. The UK was never going to adopt the Monday night live extravaganza that is a mainstay of American broadcasting, so the dancing girls and pre-match entertainment are long gone. Sky just does football, and does it very well. Anyone who wants to challenge its sporting dominance has to at least match those standards.

Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week, steve.barrett@haymarket.com
www.mediaweek.co.uk/stevebarrettblog

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