Thousands of BT Vision pay-TV customers face losing their Sky Sports channels from this weekend, as the telecoms company gears up to launch its own sports services ahead of the new Premier League football season.
The move, part of the ongoing battle between BSkyB and BT prompted by the telecoms company's aggressive move into TV sports rights, provoked outrage from BT customers on its website community forums.
BT is to make its two new BT Sport channels, which will air programming including live Premier League football and Premiership rugby, available to BT Vision customers on digital terrestrial television.
In doing so the channels it currently runs in the DTT slots – Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 – will now only be available to BT Vision TV customers who live in an area that has its top-level Infinity broadband service, if they agree to sign up to it.
BT Vision has 810,000 pay-TV subscribers, with analysts estimating that up to 30,000 also pay for Sky Sports. It is estimated that perhaps half of those 30,000 do not have a contract for BT Infinity broadband and could be affected.
"Launching a new sports channel and extra live TV channels has meant we have had to make some changes to the way we deliver different programming," said a spokeswoman for BT. "Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 will now be delivered over our Infinity fibre-based broadband."
BT has written to BT Vision customers who have Sky Sports and live in an area that is covered by its fast broadband service, telling them that they have to subscribe to it or they will not be able to watch after this weekend.
"BT are using this as a sneaky way to get people to upgrade to Infinity, I think it will fail," said one disgruntled customer on a community forum on BT's website.
Another said that they felt it was a "ruse" to get people to upgrade to Infinity: "BT will soon stop supplying Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 channels on BT Vision via your aerial if you live in an Infinity area. If you don't upgrade to Infinity they will cease your subscription to those channels."
A spokeswoman for BT Vision said that it is trying to minimise the number of customers affected. For those who have Sky Sports but do not live in an area covered by BT Infinity and want to keep watching it has developed a "new technology" to stream the channels over slower broadband.
BT is offering such customers BT Sport for free to try and stop them defecting to Sky.
The spokeswoman admitted that there is a "small number" of customers who will simply be cut off from receiving Sky Sports.
"A minority of customers who do not have a fast enough copper broadband connection, will lose Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 this summer," she said. "We will be giving these customers free BT Sport as well as six months' free broadband."
A BT spokeswoman said that the offer of taking up the Infinity broadband package would come at no extra cost to existing TV customers.
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