Sky Sports 1-5 are set to be replaced by channels dedicated to specific sports as part of a major shakeup which will see the broadcaster introduce a new range of cheaper subscription packages for its sports coverage.
The overhaul of its existing portfolio of channels will see Sky Sports drop its numbered channels in favour of dedicated networks for its football, cricket and golf coverage, in addition to the existing F1 channel, according to The Guardian.
A sixth channel – Sky Sports Arena – will be the home of other major live sports including rugby union, rugby league and tennis, while a poster on the TV Forum website has suggested that a seventh channel – Sky Sports Action – will also be launched and Sky Sports Box Office will be rebranded as Sky Sports Main Event.
Sky Sports Mix, a free-to-view channel available to Sky TV subscribers without Sky Sports, is set to remain unchanged, as is Sky Sports News HQ.
The axing of its traditional numbered channels is also set to coincide with the introduction of a new range of Sky TV sports packages, reportedly two-thirds cheaper than current prices, which would allow Sky customers to choose which individual sports channels they want to pay to watch.
This will allow Sky to offer cheaper TV packages to customers, who have become increasingly unwilling to pay nearly £50 per month for their full set of channels, with the broadcaster reportedly set to offer a cheapest option at £18.
“A key part of the strategy is that it will let Sky entice new pay-TV subscribers reluctant to fork out up to £49.50 for its cheapest sports package. The new strategy will allow Sky to charge £18 for its cheapest package – although the whole Sky Sports bundle will remain a costly option.”
The cost of sports rights has spiralled in recent years with Sky paying £4.2bn in its latest Premier League TV deal – 83% more than the previous deal and almost £11m per game – while viewing has dropped significantly.
Some analysts ascribe this drop to the rise in popularity of cheaper streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon, which with prices starting at £8 a month may be creating an expectation among consumers that pay-TV should be cheaper.
The proposed changes, first reported by the Daily Mail in April, have yet to be confirmed officially by Sky themselves, but they are seen as part of the broadcaster’s attempts to entice sports fans to sign up to cheaper packages focused on the sports they watch.
The wider overhaul also marks the latest move by the broadcaster to combat falling viewer figures and stagnant growth of its subscriber base at a time when TV rights costs continue to spiral, primarily as a result of competition from rivals BT Sport.
Viewing figures for Sky’s Premier League coverage has slumped to their lowest point in seven years, despite Sky paying £4.2bn for the lion’s share of live games during the last Premier League deal, which represented an 83% increase on the previous agreement.
The broadcaster only added 40,000 subscribers in the UK in the three months to the end of March, compared with 70,000 in the same period last year, while recent research also highlighted the threat of illegal streaming, revealing that more than 54% of young millennials have watched illegal streams of live sports and a third admit to regularly watching them, compared to only 4% of over-35s.
It is also thought that the intended changes will signal a change in Sky’s approach to buying sports rights, focusing primarily on its core sports of football, Formula 1, cricket and golf, while other sports such as rugby union and tennis could be stripped back under the new set up.