Media Lifeline: Setanta Sports

The Irish broadcaster is attracting bid interest after breaking Sky's Premier League stranglehold.

2005: Setanta was originally launched in 1990 as an international satellite sports operation primarily offering Irish sports to Irish ex-pats. But, in 2002, it began spreading its wings, striking a joint venture deal to launch the North American Sports Network in the UK. And, in 2005, it launches Setanta Sports in the US, offering top-flight Scottish and English football, Champions League action and rugby.

May 2006: Now Setanta enters the big league as a UK sports channel when it breaks BSkyB's stranglehold on live English Premier League coverage, winning one of the six packages put out to tender following a European Union ruling. Starting with the current (2007-8) season, it gains access to 46 live games a season, mainly those scheduled into late Saturday afternoon or Monday evening slots.

August 2007: The company began upping its profile in January with an ad campaign backing the launch of Setanta Golf. Now, as the new Premier League season kicks off, it launches a serious promotional blitz, including a TV campaign featuring Des Lynam.

December 2007: Barely a week after announcing that it had successfully raised £90 million in extra capital to fund bids for England football internationals and FA Cup games, Setanta Sports reveals that its UK penetration has passed the three million mark, including one million premium subscribers and two million homes receiving its basic channels through an agreement with Virgin Media's cable networks.

February 2008: Now speculation begins to mount that rival broadcasters are preparing to bid in excess of £1 billion for the whole Setanta Sports Holdings group, now regarded as a plum media asset. ITV, BT, Virgin Media and Disney, which already owns one of the world's biggest sports television brands, ESPN, are all said to be in the frame.

Fast forward ...

May 2008: A joint ITV-Virgin bid in early April is trumped when Microsoft and Yahoo! team up to post a £1.5 billion counter offer. With Google also circling, News Corp's James Murdoch reveals that BSkyB is willing to take a 17.9 per cent stake.