BT is to launch a monthly pass allowing sport fans to watch content including Premier League and Champions League football without a contract for the first time, as viewers move away from high-priced, long-term deals towards the flexibility offered by streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix.
BT has previously used its portfolio of rights, including Premiership Rugby, boxing and wrestling, as a carrot to lock consumers into contracts for broadband, phone and TV services.
The new £25-a-month pass allows anyone to dip in and out of BT Sport without having to pay hundreds of pounds over an annual contract.
Richard Broughton, an analyst at the media consultancy Ampere, said: “There is an increasing expectation in the market for flexibility, with long contract periods now off-putting to many consumers. It is also a nod to how competitive the market is getting.”
Last week, Amazon successfully livestreamed its first 10 Premier League matches. The matches were accessible to subscribers to Amazon’s Prime service, which costs £7.99 a month or £79 a year, or were free to new customers on a 30-day trial. Amazon has said the two days on which matches were streamed set new records for the most signups to Prime since it was launched in the UK in 2007.
Pete Oliver, the managing director of marketing at BT Consumer, said: “Customers can sign up on a flexible monthly basis for the first time.
“Monthly pass forms part of BT’s ambition to offer BT Sport customers unrivalled choice and the highest-quality broadcasts on even more devices and platforms.”
Sky began offering sport and entertainment on a pay-as-you-go basis seven years ago through its streaming service Now TV. The broadcaster has a range of daily, weekly and monthly passes without the need for a Sky TV subscription.
Sky’s monthly sports pass is priced at £33.99. Offering a monthly pass has not resulted in a rush of cancellations by its core pay-TV base of about 10 million subscribers; instead, it has primarily attracted a new set of “pay-lite” customers.
Broughton said: “It is more risky offering sports monthly than film and TV content, because the timing of events opens the door to viewers waiting just for specific matches and then churning.
“Given the high price of sports rights, it is a risky bet. Sky’s Now TV has mitigated the risk of contract customers moving to a ‘dip in and dip out’ culture by pricing the sports pass quite high in recognition that consumers have to pay for flexibility.”
Netflix and Amazon have swiftly attracted 20 million UK subscribers between them. Last year, the number of subscribers to streaming services overtook those signed up to pay-TV providers such as Sky, BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media for the first time.
Monthly cost of streaming services and pay-TV passes
BT Sport – £25
Sky Sports pass – £33.99, reduced to £20 for the first two months
Netflix – £8.99 (most popular tier)
Amazon Prime Video – £7.99, or £79 a year
Britbox – £5.99
AppleTV+ – £4.99
Disney+ – £5.99 (launching 31 March)
NBCUniversal reality TV service, Hayu – £3.99
BBC TV licence – £12.90 or £154.50 annually