For BT Vision, the acquisition of rights to show Sky Sports 1 and 2 was meant to herald a new era for its hybrid DTT/IPTV platform. Indeed, so excited about the development was Adam, the BT ads' resident protagonist, that he managed to tear himself away from mulling over his seemingly endless courtship of Jane.
Instead, in a dream-like sequence, the brand character left his flat and entered the tunnel ready to emerge onto a football pitch alongside players including Michael Owen and Shay Given, to the cheers of the crowd.
Sadly, for some subscribers who chose to take up the BT Vision offer, the reality proved disappointing. In a blunder reminiscent of recent aberrations suffered by ITV in its sports coverage, a technical glitch prevented viewers from accessing the Sky Sports packages for which they had paid.
While BT has promised to refund those affected, and pointed out that Top Up TV suffered similar problems, it was not the ideal start. It also threatened to overshadow BT's £30m marketing investment in its entry into the deregulated TV sports market, intended to drive uptake. However, BT Vision has yet to gain the scale it promised. In the most recent quarter it acquired only 14,000 subscribers; its lowest quarterly increase for two years.
So what should BT Vision do next? We asked Neil Davidson, strategic planning director at Billington Cartmell, who has worked with Vodafone, and Mike Welsh, chief executive of Publicis Dialog, who worked on ITV Digital.
NEIL DAVIDSON, strategic planning director, Billington Cartmell
Sky, and its emotionally engaging advertising, dominates the market. While Sky trumpets its own content, creating a buzz around it, BT Vision has to tread the line between using Sky-generated content to sell itself and communicating packages in ways that can feel lesser.
BT Vision needs to communicate more clearly its real point of difference and why consumers should feel good about choosing it over the more obvious choice, Sky. How can BT Vision differentiate itself in a way that feels relevant to consumers' lives, not just another bit of kit slugging it out over price?
BT Vision also needs to create a more meaningful connection with the broader BT brand. While Sky maximises the buzz from its own content, BT doesn't fully maximise its credentials as a broader communications brand, particularly in its TV advertising.
- Position BT Vision as the more intelligent, consumer-focused choice. For consumers who want to be more selective about what, how much and when they view content, BT Vision can actually be the smarter choice.
- Bring to life BT Vision's USPs and how they make a difference to people's lives, in ways that BT does with its other products. BT Vision's package flexibility, internet streaming and far superior replay capabilities make it an offer that means TV could enhance our lives rather than dominate them.
- Bring simplicity to a complex and confusing market. BT Vision could bring this to life at the start of its engagement with potential consumers, through simplifying different packages and how they compare with the competition in a way that no one in the market is yet doing.
MIKE WELSH, chief executive, publicis dialog
In the UK, pay-TV is all about football. Sky is still the natural first port of call for consumers: its 9.8m subscribers know they won't miss a minute of the action. Moreover, as the beautiful game has previously been the business' saviour, Sky certainly isn't going to give an inch without a fight.
The fact that BT Vision won't be carrying Sky Sports 3 and 4 leaves it vulnerable. Almost a decade ago, OnDigital (later ITV Digital) successfully lobbied for Sky to allow it to sell Sky Sports 1 and 2. Sky retaliated by launching Sky Sports 3 - the only place where viewers could watch League Cup football ties live.
Sky was also well prepared for BT Vision's high-profile Sky Sports launch announcement this summer, just three months after the Ofcom ruling. Sky quickly countered the challenger's push by highlighting exactly how many sports channels it offers in comparison. BT Vision's £30m ad campaign will apparently garner just 60,000 additional subscriptions.
Even though BT Vision is significantly cheaper than either Sky or Virgin Media, particularly when you compare phone, web and TV bundles, I suspect not a lot of people know that.
- Market the significant price differentials aggressively - they are worth shouting about.
- Expect the unexpected from Sky. The recent wholesale price hike was genius; there's more to come.
- Sharpen up the advertising - why were the players in the TV ads not wearing team kits? It feels a bit own-label.
- Exploit the roll-out of fibre-optic technology - give the brand a leadership position.