Coronavirus: What Are Sky, BT, Canal Plus & Other Broadcasters Doing For Sports Subscribers As Film & TV SVODs Mobilize?

While reports are coming in of linear TV spikes due to coronavirus, the lack of live sports is proving a headache for networks and subscribers.

Many customers on social media have been asking whether there will be discounts or whether they should be charged at all for costly services largely devoid of primetime live sport.

Broadcasters have come up with different responses, some more inspiring than others.

In France, local pay TV giant Canal Plus announced this week that it will offer its service free for the next two weeks during the country’s lockdown.

Maxime Saada, chairman and CEO of Canal Plus Group, said on Twitter, “Canal Plus goes free for everyone on all set-top boxes. And for our subscribers, we are opening up the access to all our channels, Cinema, Series, Youth and Documentaries. Take care of yourselves.”

Scandinavian pay TV group Viaplay, owned by the Nordic Entertainment Group, has reduced prices across the board for its sports packages.

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In the UK, leading sports subscription channel Sky Sports has said that customers will be allowed to pause their subscriptions without charge but it hasn’t offered price reductions. Sky has come under fire for the timing of a subscription increase sent to customers this month, but the Comcast-owned broadcaster has more recently said it will also offer Sky Go Extra to all our customers for free in a move to placate subs.

In Germany, Sky has said it will give all subscribers its Sky Cinema and Sky Entertainment packages for free for the next 30 days.

Fellow UK sports subscription kingpin BT Sport has been less proactive so far. The service’s homepage trumpets a “feast of elite-level action including Champions League, Premier League football, Europa League, Gallagher Premiership and Champions Cup rugby, UFC, WWE and much, much more”. However, in reality none of this is available live and won’t be for some time.

BT says it is working on a “revised schedule of BT Sport including live sport from overseas” but it is not currently offering customers other than those on “flexible packages” pauses or discounts.

Both Sky and BT have said they will stop billing their commercial customers, such as pubs, for two weeks. These customers pay a hefty sum to show games live in communal areas.

In the U.S., yesterday the NFL announced that it was offering NFL Game Pass free of charge until May 31 to viewers in the U.S., and from today until July 31 to fans outside the U.S. and Canada.

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The NBA followed suit shortly after, announcing in a letter to fans that it would be providing a free preview of NBA League Pass, the league’s own subscription-based digital offering, until April 22.

Networks need to balance the potentially huge losses they will incur from the lack of live sport with the customer service gains of being understanding towards their loyal customers who shell out vast sums to watch content.

Meanwhile, online film and TV services are lining up to offer discounts to lure people increasingly confined to home.

Global streaming activity jumped 20% last weekend, Bloomberg reported. Video game usage in North America grew 75% from the previous week, according to Verizon.

In Italy, Amazon Prime was reportedly available free of charge for a short time in northern Italy, one of the worst impacted regions from the coronavirus.

Acorn TV, Sundance Now, and Shudder are among subscription services offering extended free trials. And as we’ve seen, studios are breaking theatrical windows to get their content seen. Universal is leading this charge but even Disney+ made Frozen II available on its streaming service three months ahead of schedule. 

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