Britain’s BT Moves into Broadcast – After Ten Year Wait

11 October 2004

BT, the British telecommunications giant, is at last poised to move into broadcast entertainment, after being barred from doing so in the early 90s by the John Major administration.

The ten-year ban – which some observers believe was imposed to placate US TV and cable interests – was ostensibly introduced to prevent BT, a virtual monopoly, from stifling competition.

Prior to the ban a successful eighteen-month pilot scheme was carried out in Colchester, Essex, enabling BT subscribers to receive broadcast TV, video on demand and a range of sophisticated online services.

The understanding between BT and the government, prior to the latter's curious U-turn, was that BT would get the green light to proceed with entertainment services, in return for which it would install fibre-optic cabling throughout the nation, thereby enabling nationwide broadband availability.

The political turnabout opened the door to an all-American invasion spearheaded by News Corporation's BSkyB with NTL and Telewest in its wake. But despite this setback, there were those in BT who paraphrased the immortal words of Governor Schwartzenegger's alter ego: "We'll be back," they vowed.

BT has returned to the fray via a partnership between its Broadcast Services division and Point of Presence Media, a specialist in retail and public venue broadcasting. BT will provide the delivery platform, POPM its OTV media knowhow.

Says BTBS director of sales Simon Orme: "This is a fascinating deal for [us], as it takes us into a brand new market. The combination of our market-leading platform and OTV's innovative service and programming, gives subscribers a powerful marketing medium as well as a lively music video channel."

OTV managing director Tod Yeadon claims the deal "allows us to exploit the full potential of the OTV service as Europe's only subscription-based TV channel for retail outlets."

But informed observers believe BT is merely getting its feet wet with the retail venture, seeing it as a way of establishing a consumer market bridgehead.

Data sourced from Media Week (UK); additional content by WARC staff