In a surprising twist in the UK’s dynamic sports broadcasting scene, Viaplay is set to exit the market, making way for the return of a familiar player: Premier Sports.
In what can be described as a full-circle journey, Premier Sports is set to reclaim its position in the UK sports broadcasting landscape in early 2024.
Viaplay’s latest Q3 report, which was published today (Friday), unveils some of the key reasons behind its UK exit, paving the way for the unexpected comeback of Premier Sports.
Premier Sports, known for its diverse coverage of major sporting events such as the Scottish League Cup and LaLiga, underwent a significant transformation in 2022 when it was acquired by Viaplay.
This acquisition was a pivotal moment, marking Viaplay’s entry into the UK market with a promise of combining live sports with original Nordic dramas and films as part of its own standalone streaming service.
Viaplay’s launch in the UK was ambitious, offering two distinct packages: The Films & Series package at £3.99/month and the Total package at £14.99/month, which included sports content inherited from Premier Sports.
Meanwhile, pay-TV subscribers (on Sky and Virgin Media) were able to add Viaplay’s linear sports channels to their packages.
But then – everything started to crumble.
Despite its strong start and diverse content portfolio, Viaplay faced challenges in the UK market.
In a rather surprising turn, the company decided to exit the UK a few months ago, citing financial difficulties and a strategic shift to refocus on the Nordics and the Netherlands.
This decision came after a significant drop in net income in the first half of 2023, a stark contrast to the positive figures reported in the previous year.
Viaplay’s exit strategy involved either selling parts of its services, partnering with other companies, or completely shutting down its operations.
However, Viaplay’s decision to exit the UK market left its subscribers in a state of uncertainty.
Questions arose about the continuity of services until the end of subscription periods, the fate of content rights, especially for sports events, and potential compensations or refunds if the service were to shut down earlier.
Amidst these uncertainties, Viaplay had recently attempted to attract new subscribers with a price reduction for its annual subscription plan, dropping it from £11.99/month to £9.99/month, but only for new subscribers.
That move, though seemingly advantageous, was overshadowed by the impending exit from the UK market.
The Rise, Fall And Return Of Premier Sports
This week, in a surprising turn of events, an old name came back to our lives – Premier Sports, as Viaplay announced that they “have agreed to sell our British operations back to the previous owners SSBL Ltd (Premier Sports)”.
Premier Sports’ return to the UK market, which is expected to happen in early 2024, marks a significant turnaround in its recent history.
After being acquired by Viaplay in 2022, a move that reshaped the sports broadcasting landscape, Premier Sports is now poised to operate independently once again, pending regulatory approval.
This transition back to its original ownership under SSBL, Ltd, signals a re-emergence of a familiar brand in the sports broadcasting world.
The reacquisition means Premier Sports will revert to its original branding, renewing its identity in the market.
The network plans to relaunch its channels – Premier Sports 1 and Premier Sports 2 – in the same places they’re currently available (Sky, Virgin Media, Amazon’s Prime Video Channels, etc.), ensuring continuity for existing viewers.
This strategy aims to provide a seamless experience for subscribers, minimizing disruptions during the transition.
Later down the line, the network promises to launch an “enhanced” standalone streaming service, aiming to elevate the viewing experience with better features and accessibility.
This new service will include 24/7 access to both Premier Sports TV channels and other key content live, catering to the evolving demands of modern sports fans.
In terms of content, Premier Sports will continue to deliver a rich variety of sports coverage.
The broadcaster is set to retain rights to significant events like the Scottish FA Cup, the Scottish League Cup, and international football, including Scotland’s national team games and the UEFA Euro 2024 playoffs.
Premier Sports will also offer comprehensive coverage of LaLiga and a range of rugby tournaments, as well as NASCAR and NHL, ensuring that fans have access to a wide spectrum of sports.
What Happens To Existing Viaplay Subscribers?
At this point, however, it’s still unclear what will happen to those who are already subscribed to Viaplay in the UK directly, as the final details of the deal have not been released yet.
It’s possible that direct Viaplay subscribers will be transferred over to the new Premier Sports streaming service, though it’s unclear whether Viaplay’s existing streaming app will continue to function, or whether a new Premier Sports app will be pushed out when the deal materialises.
Also, Viaplay’s drama service is also expected to shut down in the UK – therefore existing annual subscribers will likely be entitled for a refund once that happens – but, again, exact details are unclear at this point.
Viaplay’s Q3 Report Sheds Further Light
Today, Viaplay released its Q3 report, where the company presented several updates that shed light on its current business strategy and future plans.
The company reported a 17% organic sales growth in its Viaplay segment, a key contributor to its 7% overall organic sales growth. This growth indicates Viaplay’s substantial impact within the company, now representing over half of its net sales
However, Viaplay’s non-core international operations, including its ventures in the Baltics, Poland, and the UK, have not met expectations, leading to a planned exit from these markets by the summer 2025.
The decision to withdraw from these markets, which includes the sale of its UK operations to Premier Sports, is set to have a significant financial impact, estimated at around SEK 2.2 billion over the coming years
The company’s financial strategy also reveals a period of adjustment, with expected operating losses due to the underperformance of its international operations.
Despite this, Viaplay maintains a stable outlook for its core operations in 2024, with an aim to gradually increase profit margins in the following years.
Viaplay’s strategic shift, which includes a workforce rightsizing program, is a response to several factors, including higher content costs and adverse currency exchange impacts.
These adjustments are part of Viaplay’s broader strategy to recalibrate its business focus, primarily towards its more profitable Nordic operations