Sports enthusiasts – especially football fans – in the United Kingdom will soon be able to choose from operators other than Sky should they wish to watch live sports content on Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2. Following BT Vision’s move to offer Sky Sports 1 or Sky Sports 2 to its customers (albeit only in standard definition) from just £6.99 per month, Virgin Media today announced that these channels will be available to its subscribers in high-definition format (i.e. Sky Sports HD1 and Sky Sports HD2) from the 2nd of August.
Virgin Media’s launch of this Sky Sports HD service is clearly timed to coincide with the kick-off of the new domestic football season. Upgrading to HD will cost subscribers an extra £7 per month provided that they are already subscribed to the SD versions of Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2. This £7 bolt-on HD monthly fee will also grant access to high-definition premium channels like Sky Movies HD (again assuming that customers already have an existing subscription to the regular format premium channels).
In comparison, Sky itself charges its subscribers £10 extra per month to watch high-def content. To tilt the cost for HD access in Virgin Media’s favour even further, some basic HD channels like BBC HD, ITV 1 HD and Channel 4 HD, and step-up HD channels such as Living HD, National Geographic HD, FX HD, MTVN HD and even ESPN HD are available for no extra monthly fee depending on the customer’s subscribed TV package, and after a once-off HD activation fee of £49 has been paid.
Coupled with the launch of Film 4 HD (currently exclusive to Virgin Media), Sky 1 HD and Sky Arts HD, the imminent addition of the Sky Sports HD1 and Sky Sports HD2 brings the total number of HD channels on Virgin Media to 30 (i.e. not too far behind Sky which boasts 43 HD channels).
Of course, the only reason why Virgin Media and BT Vision are able to offer their customers relatively inexpensive routes to Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 channels is because of Ofcom’s ruling in April, which ordered BSkyB to offer these flagship channels at reduced wholesale price to rival broadcasters (below that it charges its own subscribers). To fend off its competitors, Sky has commissioned a multi-million pound marketing campaign fronted by Manchester United legend Eric Cantona, emphasising that Sky is the only platform where all 5 Sky Sports channels (Sky Sports HD1, Sky Sports HD2, Sky Sports HD3, Sky Sports HD4 and Sky Sports News HD) are available in high definition.