In a move that signifies a major shift in the UK’s sports broadcasting landscape, Viaplay Xtra, a channel once synonymous with free, diverse sports coverage, is set to terminate its broadcast on Sky and Virgin Media from January 25, 2024.
This announcement, posted by Sky today, not only marks the end of an era for the channel previously known as Freesports, but also raises questions about the future of accessible sports content in a market increasingly dominated by subscription and streaming services that incur extra costs.
While the channel hasn’t been available on Freeview and Freesat in recent years, it was available at no extra cost for subscribers of Sky and Virgin Media (without having to pay for an extra package).
Once hailed as a haven for sports aficionados, Viaplay Xtra catered to a wide spectrum of interests, ranging from NASCAR events to international cricket, NHL Hockey, La Liga football and more.
The closure is part of Viaplay’s upcoming exit from the UK – and the return of Premier Sports. Here’s everything you need to know.
From Freesports to Viaplay Xtra
Originally launched as Freesports in 2017, the channel used to cover a variety of sports categories, from selected football matches, to motorsports events, ice hockey, rugby, cricket and more.
Freesports used to be widely accessible on Freeview, Freesat and the pay-TV platforms, as well as online, offering sports enthusiasts a diverse range of sporting events without any additional cost.
Another significant shift occurred when Viaplay bought Premier Sports in late 2022, leading to the rebranding of Freesports to Viaplay Xtra.
This change, however, did not affect the channel’s basic proposition: providing sports content at no extra cost to basic subscribers of Sky and Virgin Media, unlike its counterparts Viaplay Sports 1 and Viaplay Sports 2, which required an additional subscription.
But then, in 2023 – Viaplay announced it would be leaving the UK – and Viaplay Xtra is about to become the first casualty.
Viaplay’s Exit And Premier Sports’ Return
The impending shutdown of Viaplay Xtra is a direct consequence of Viaplay’s strategic decision to withdraw from the UK market, a move that has significant implications for British sports broadcasting.
This departure, in turn, paved the way for a surprising return – when it was recently announced that Premier Sports is coming back to the channels it once sold to Viaplay.
Viaplay’s exit from the UK market was not an abrupt decision. It was a calculated move following a period of assessment and realignment of their business strategy.
The Scandinavian company’s initial foray into the UK market was marked by ambitious plans to establish a strong foothold in sports broadcasting.
However, the competitive nature of the UK’s sports media landscape, coupled with the challenges of establishing a new brand in a market dominated by well-entrenched players, led to a reassessment of their position.
The upcoming closure of Viaplay Xtra leaves a void in the semi-free sports broadcasting sector, which Premier Sports could potentially fill again, if they decide to reinstate a channel similar to Freesports – though the closure of Xtra is not a good sign.
The End Of Viaply Xtra
For viewers, the exit of Viaplay and the return of Premier Sports could mean changes in how they access their favourite sports content.
The closure of Viaplay Xtra on January 25, will particularly affect those who relied on it for free sports content as part of their Sky or Virgin Media subscription.
For example, this coming week, the channel featured events like the Ultimate Karting Championship, providing coverage of a sport that often receives less attention.
Fans of cricket had access to international competitions such as the Global T20 Canada, which featured renowned cricketers like Chris Gayle and Ravi Bopara, and live La Liga coverage is also regularly available on Viaplay Xtra.
As part of the upcoming change, Viaplay 1 and Viaplay 2 (which require an extra subscription) will also be changing their numbers on Sky:
- Viaplay 1 HD will move from Sky Satellite Channel 412 to Channel 419
- Viaplay 2 HD will move from Sky Satellite Channel 419 to Channel 420
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