Friday, 5 August 2016

VM Ireland on MB Blog - Irish Times: No going back for Virgin Media as it moves on from Eir Sports

Story from Irish Times:

Virgin Media customers hoping for a last-minute deal on BT Sports and Eir Sports channels will be left disappointed after its Irish head confirmed there would be no reprieve.

The TV platform dropped the Eir Sports pack, which includes BT Sport, at the end of July after it failed to agree commercial terms on a wholesale arrangement for the six channels.

Virgin Ireland chief executive Tony Hanway said the decision to walk away from the former Setanta Sports package was a tough one.

“It certainly wasn’t a call we made lightly,” Mr Hanway said.

“But we weren’t going to pay more for less, and that is always a priciple we hold to.”

The company previously cited the pack’s loss to Sky of the Irish rights to live English Premier League games on a Saturday afternoon as one of the factors in the decision.

Mr Hanway acknowledged some customers would be disappointed by the move, but said he felt it was the right call.

“Eir Sports is not an integral part of the Virgin Media product offering; it never was and now it never will be,” he said.

In Ireland, BT Sport and Eir Sport hold the rights to broadcast Europa League games, meaning Irish fans of Manchester United and Southampton will have to be subscribers to watch the games.

Cork City is also currently part of the league.

BT Sport also holds the rights to show UFC fights in Ireland.

Bill Blake, head of media content with Virgin Media, said viewing figures for the channels were declining, and the Europa League audience on those channels was small.

Instead, Virgin has signed a long-term deal with Sky Sports that will run until 2020.

That deal includes a new station, Sky Sports Mix, which will replace Setanta Sports – now Eir Sports –- in Virgin’s basic TV pack and will show live soccer from Spain’s La Liga, FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers, and a select number of Premier League and Football League matches.

Although Eir appeared to leave the door open for negotiations last month, Virgin Media doesn’t seem likely to reverse its decision.

“We’ve made our choice and we’re comfortable with it,” said Mr Hanway.