BT Sport will host its last big night on Saturday. The Champions League final in Istanbul will be the end for a brand that, over the past decade, extended live coverage of sport in the UK and became the first serious rival to Sky Sports. Taking its place will be TNT Sports, a channel that promises “new name, same game”. But with a month until it launches, viewers are still in the dark as to what exactly that will mean.
TNT Sports goes live on 18 July but does not yet have a website in the UK. The cost of watching it remains not entirely clear either. That the channels will roll over existing deals for the Premier League and Champions League, alongside Premiership rugby union and MotoGP among other sports, is guaranteed, but some programmes are being axed and who will present and analyse the action is not known. All of this comes against a backdrop of increasing turbulence in what was once known as the pay-TV industry, with TNT Sports’ UK and Ireland offering just one cog in a global wheel of content.
Viewers know the face of BT Sport football, Jake Humphrey, is to depart. Manchester City v Internazionale will be his last match as he moves on to “fulfil other ambitions”. There is widespread expectation he will be replaced by Laura Woods, an ITV and TalkSport presenter. She is described as having “great warmth and deep knowledge” by one executive who has worked with her, and is highly rated in the industry. Her appointment has yet to be announced.
What has been confirmed is that Final Score, the Soccer Saturday imitation which featured pundits such as Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton, is to be axed. Sutton has been rumoured to be a transfer target for Sky. Rumours say that many of the other pundits will be rolled over from BT to TNT, but some on air-talent say they have yet to hear what the future holds.
BT Sport will not comment on specifics and point towards remarks from Andrew Georgiou, the president of Warner Brothers Discovery Sport Europe, one of the key decision makers behind TNT Sports, from February. “We are determined to ensure we don’t compromise on the inimitable, local style that is at the heart of the way BT Sport has connected with fans over the past decade,” he said.
TNT Sports is the result of Warner Bros Discovery (WBD), itself a newly merged media conglomerate, partnering with BT in owning BT Sport a year ago. The deal envisages Discovery eventually controlling the operation in its entirety and one definite way to get TNT Sports from next month is to subscribe to the Discovery+ app. Currently an entertainment and sport package there costs £6.99 a month, but the sport offering is flagged as “cycling, tennis, snooker, motorsports and more”, essentially the offering of Discovery’s other sports channel, Eurosport. It has also been confirmed that TNT Sports’ four channels will be hosted on the traditional TV platforms of Sky, Virgin and BT TV. On Sky a monthly pass for BT Sport costs £28.
WBD’s entry into the British pay-TV and video-on-demand market comes when many businesses are cutting costs. What seemed like the future two years ago – the domination of global content providers such as Netflix and Disney – no longer seems guaranteed, with Disney last month announcing “strategic changes in our approach to our content curation” and pulling dozens of shows. According to François Godard of the research company Enders Analysis, the landscape has changed quickly.
“Discovery already had sports in Europe and were seeing this as an opportunity to upgrade their business model,” he says. “If you have something high profile like Premier League and Champions League rights you can go direct to consumer [with Discovery+], which is where everyone wanted to go. Now companies like Disney are not only cutting costs on content but they are willing to consider licensing it too. Now you must look at [the content it will get from] BT Sport alone: does it make sense and how can it make a profit? It’s not that it’s impossible but it’s something that’s long term and it will depend a lot on relationships with third parties, like Sky, selling it to consumers for you.”
So while Sky insiders have spoken of concerns the American media giant could pump money into the next round of Premier League rights, which go out to tender this autumn, it may well be that cost-cutting is the order of the day. BT’s expansive studio complex on the edge of London’s Olympic village has been given up, to be left when its lease expires at the end of the year. Details of the future remain in short supply, but viewers and industry insiders alike will be watching closely to see what shape the TNT project takes.