Digital package to take on Sky with cut-price subscription fee
ITVDigital has become the first broadcaster to challenge Sky's dominance in the pub market with a new commercial football package.
The new digital ITV sports channel, due to launch this summer in place of ONdigital, will offer 40 Premiership matches a season, Champions League, Nationwide League and Worthington Cup coverage.
Subscription charges will be up to 50 per cent less than those for Sky digital, although the channel will not feature the same or as many Premiership games as in the Sky package.
As with Sky, subscription rates will be charged according to rateable value, starting at £30 a month and rising to £355 for large outlets. The rise is around 65 per cent on the original ONdigital package, but less than the Sky rates of between £33 and £870.
Installation is free for pubs signing up before the end of June and pubs that already subscribe to the ONdigital package will be offered a continuation of the existing lower subscription charges for a year.
Trade leaders have welcomed news of the lower charges but have expressed concern that many licensees may be forced to pay extra to get both services so that they do not miss out on any matches.
Tony Payne, chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations, said: "This may be of benefit to the smaller pubs that may have had to drop Sky because of the high charges but a lot of licensees will have to make a difficult decision over what coverage to go for."
But Andrew Marre, spokesman for ONdigital, said the package was an opportunity for smaller outlets to save money and still pull in extra customers.
He said: "I think pubs will make a choice - big sports outlets will want to make sure they have everything so they may take both packages but quite a lot of pubs will make a judgement over what represents the best value for money."
The new package was developed for ITVDigital after it failed to negotiate a deal to screen Sky Sports as part of a commercial package. It has now bought the pay-per-view rights to 40 Premiership matches which will be included in the pub package rather than being charged individually.
This contrasts with Sky which offers 66 live Premiership matches next season. It also has pay-per-view rights to the additional 40 matches but has not yet revealed how these will be made available to pubs.
Sky has the first choice of matches, although this is restricted to some extent by an agreement to give each team a fair proportion of the coverage.
A spokeswoman for Sky said: "Sky Sports can choose the most attractive games ahead of any other broadcaster and these are the matches that are likely to draw the largest pub audiences."
She stressed that the new prices from ITVDigital represented a significant 65 per cent rise on those charged to pubs last year. But Mr Marre denied the increase was unreasonable. "It is a completely different service," he said.