The final whistle 

23 Jun 2009 0 tbs.pm/1069 Article text released under the Creative Commons Attribution license Media copyrighted Report an error in this article

Setanta goes into administration with loss of 200 jobs

After numerous ups and downs that somewhat mirrored the trials and tribulations of football itself, the Setanta saga finally draws to an ignominious conclusion after several aborted attempts at a rescue deal. Those who know the circumstances behind the fate of ITV Digital won’t be too surprised at this news, to be honest.

So who exactly has emerged the winner here? The Premier League certainly has come out of this very well given the current economic crisis, since they have been paid exactly the same amount of money for the 2010 rights (£159m) by ESPN/Disney, even if they have lost out in the short term through the Setanta collapse.

Plus given the interest also previously shown by US billionaire Leonard Blavatnik, you can’t help think that either the Americans know more about marketing sport than the Brits, or that they’re more willing to take a (highly risky?) gamble.

At least ESPN has wisely decided to play it relatively safe by opting for a more traditional premium channel approach, although they really can’t afford to do things any other way in the present climate.

Of course another winner out of all of this just has to be Sky, even though they have gained no football matches as an outcome. BSkyB played a clever game of cat-and-mouse intimidation against Setanta, such as going as far as to construct a whole new terrestrial pay-TV service (remember Picnic?) as a result.

And I still maintain that Sky had no real intention of actually launching Picnic whatsoever unless it was subsequently forced into doing so if Setanta and/or Top Up TV turned out to be a runaway success. (Given the earlier failure of ITV Digital, who would have bet on that happening anyway.)

All BSkyB cared about were people opting to subscribe to Setanta as opposed to Sky, although of course they still have Virgin Media and perhaps others as well to contend with from now onwards; platforms for which ESPN could easily form separate carriage deals.

It’s instructive to note that BSkyB could have easily bought one of the two football match packages that Setanta had formerly owned but decided for whatever reason not to. Bear in mind that this is the same BSkyB who bought ITV shares as “an investment” (!) and has also bid well over the odds for supposedly ‘worthless’ Virgin Media TV channels.

All of this combined with what previously happened to ITV Digital just goes to prove that the current system of allowing one broadcaster to dominate football rights may not exactly work as intended, even though football fans may be pleased at not having to take out two or more subscriptions in order to view the majority of matches.

Then there’s another topic that hardly anyone seems to have mentioned in the context of a Setanta failure; namely what could happen to Top Up TV as a result. Although Setanta and Top Up TV are two completely separate entities, having one of these fail won’t be good news at all for the prospects of terrestrial pay-TV in any form.

Which of course will be even better news for Sky.

     

David Hastings

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