BT could look like a very different organisation in five years time. While chief exec Gavin Patterson has been investing billions in the media side of the business and expanding into mobile, the former state monopoly has been facing ever-louder calls to be stripped of its infrastructure division, which controls most of the country’s internet access.
It stole another of Sky’s prize hens yesterday, announcing it had acquired the exclusive rights to broadcast Australian international cricket for the next five years – meaning it will be home to the next Ashes series, which will take place Down Under in 2017-18. After it nabbed the Champions League and another decent roster of Premier League matches, this reiterates just how serious BT is about taking the fight to Sky.
Ben Amarfio, a spokesperson for Cricket Australia, said that BT was ‘uniquely placed to become one of the UK’s largest sports channels’ adding that ‘the principle of taking the game to more people is very important in our efforts to grow the game.’ That won’t have gone down well at Sky.
BT doesn’t charge for a subscription to its sports channels so, as Patterson told MT last year, its content land grab is all about selling more broadband. But that side of its business could be damaged if BT is forced to spin off Openreach, its infrastructure division.
Today Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, said that Ofcom should split BT from Openreach unless it can find a particularly good reason not to. Apparently irked after struggling to get online on his recent summer holiday to Cornwall, the MP for Rhondda said that Britain’s broadband was too patchy and not fast enough.
‘Although BT Openreach, which owns the existing copper network and delivers the rollout, is nominally at arm’s length from BT, it is right that Ofcom is now considering whether this provides an unfair advantage to BT and whether it should be split off in the interests of transparency and fair competition,’ he wrote in the Telegraph.
Given that he’s not in power, and could be booted out of his current job after Labour’s leadership election, Bryant’s calls won’t achieve a great deal on their own. But problems with rural broadband and protests from vocal rivals mean that BT’s grip on Openreach is far from secure.