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BT buys ESPN's sports channels

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BT is buying ESPN's sports television channels in the UK and Ireland as it steps up its challenge to BSkyB in the pay-tv market.   Last June BT agreed to pay £738m for the rights to 38 Premier League matches including 18 'first picks'.   The move removed ESPN's status as the only rival to Sky and made the US company's withdrawal from the British market more likely.

The deal is said to be worth in the low tens of millions and includes live rights to the FA Cup, Scottish Premier League, Europa League and Bundesliga.   BT will take over from the end of July and will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel as part of its sports package.

BT Vision has just 700,000 subscribers and there are those who have criticised the commercial wisdom of the strategy even though it is integrated with a landline and broadband offer.   It is expected to take at least five years before a profit is turned.