BT Sport: Competition for Sky Sports should be a cause for celebration

Critics say BT is wrong to have spent so much money on its new TV sports channels, but competition for Sky should mean more choice and lower prices for customers.

BT Sport was launched at the start of the August, and this weekend will begin showing Premier League football.

It'll be the first time in Premier League history that coveted 'top pick' matches - 18 of which will be shown live on BT Sport - have been broadcast anywhere other than Sky TV.

BT Sport is free to all 6.8 million homes with BT broadband, even if they have Sky TV, and so it's spearheading a revolution in sports TV - making live Premier League footy and a plethora of other sport affordable and accessible to millions more fans.

Its arrival represents a victory for the consumer and ought to be a cause for celebration, as a challenge such as this to the dominant Sky Sports will almost certainly trigger a price war, with the two giants battling for supremacy, ultimately saving UK households some money and increasing the choice of sports available for consumption. Sadly, not everyone agrees.

Writing for The Guardian, columnist Aditya Chakrabortty accused BT of "gambling" with public funds, spending lavishly on big names and broadcast rights while at the same time being paid by the government to connect rural Britain with superfast broadband.

Still ongoing, the nationwide fibre optic broadband installations - not only carried out, but also partly funded by BT - will ensure 95% of the UK has access to superfast broadband by 2017. And yet all of this really has very little to do with sport.

Let's not forget that BT is a privately owned company worth £20billion, and it's absolutely enormous. As such, it's made up of numerous divisions, one of which is Openreach, in charge of upgrading the fibre optic network, while BT Sport is controlled by an entirely separate arm.

Given its size, and the fact it services over 18 million customers in the UK, BT is pretty much unique in its ability to challenge Sky - for decades the dominant force in TV sport - and launch an affordable, accessible Sky Sports alternative.

In addition to 38 exclusive Premier League games on BT Sport, there's more football from the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League on offer, as well as live premiership rugby and niche sports such as Red Bull Crashed Ice and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (MMA).

Add to this the long list of on-screen talent recruited by BT - big names in the world of sport, including Michael Owen, David Ginola, Martina Navratilova and Clare Balding - and it's clear that BT Sport is a huge risk and a massive investment for BT. Then again, it would need to be in order to rattle Sky.

For more than 20 years, Sky Sports has been the one-stop shop for top-flight sport on UK television. Its strong reputation means customers are happy paying a premium for access.

Others have tried to compete, not least ESPN and Setanta in recent years, yet none have had the kind of resources needed to keep up with Sky's pace. Perhaps BT Sport will be more successful - it's certainly taken a bold approach so far.

Rather than jog alongside Sky Sports, BT will attempt to do things its own way - a new way, and hopes that a fresh and modern approach to content will allow it to go one better than its rival.

Not only has it invested heavily in broadcast rights, talent and marketing, but also a vast, purpose-built studio located within London's Olympic Park.

BT can't do it all though - for starters, Sky has the rights to three times as many Premier League football games - but instead seems intent on shaking things up with the recruitment of big and more importantly current names from the world of sport.

This is all good news for you and me, as increased competition will almost certainly force down prices and mean providers have to work harder to attract and retain their customers.

BT Sport shook the industry by offering sports channels free of charge to anyone with BT broadband, even those who've got Sky TV. And if you don't want BT broadband you can still get BT Sport by paying a £12 monthly subscription - a model of accessibility not mirrored by Sky.

Sky is already attempting to counter this threat by offering free Sky broadband to anyone who signs up for a Sky Sports TV package. And the fight has only just begun.

While hardcore sports fans are unlikely to shift away from Sky's comprehensive coverage, more casual supporters are bound to be drawn towards BT's enticing proposition, switching broadband if necessary.

At the end of the day, BT Sport is creating more choice for UK consumers, both in the sports providers they take and the sports TV they can consume - and choice for consumers is never a bad thing.

If you've not yet signed up, but you are interested, keep your eye on the market and compare the latest deals whenever you get chance. Sky's new competition won't be going away, so there could be further discounts and even better things on the way.

Click here for more about BT Sport

What do you think? Is BT wrong to be spending so much money on launching its new sports channels? Have your say in the comments section below.

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