BT and Sky are squaring up for the next round in the bid for British pay-television viewers, which will be won on more than just the result on the football pitch. It is being fought in the field of media and communications services, and the ability to deliver a combination of television, video, voice and data across various networks to diverse devices and displays.
The English Premier League will be considering sealed bids for the rights to cover its football games.
The BBC has already renewed its deal to show highlights on Match of the Day for a further three years. It is reported to be paying over £200 million for the rights, after ITV pulled out of the bidding.
The big money will be reserved for live coverage. The rights package previously raised £3 billion but is widely expected to exceed this. BT and Sky will be aiming to outbid each other.
Discovery, which is now the majority owner of Eurosport, is also reported to be considering an offer.
Virgin Media, owned by Liberty Global, with operations across Europe, has asked the communications regulator to suspend the auction pending a review, although that seems unlikely. Virgin Media will probably carry the coverage by other channels, whichever wins.
BT entered the market with a bold bid to create its own sports channels and boost its broadband offer. The telecommunications company announced that is now has 1.09 million television customers, up 45,000 in the previous quarter.
With the £12.5 billion acquisition of Everything Everywhere, the joint venture between its French and German counterparts, BT is placing a bigger bid to return to the mobile market. It has also announced ambitious plans to test G.fast technology to deliver broadband at speeds of up to 500 megabits per second. That will come as little consolation to those in more remote areas that struggle to reach a few megabits.
Sky is now a European operation, with services in Germany and Italy, as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland. With 19.35 million subscribers at the last count, it is due to announce its latest figures.
Already offering broadband in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Sky has also announced plans to launch a mobile voice and data service in conjunction with Telefónica, which is in turn planning to sell its 02 UK business to the owner of the rival Three network.
The future is not simply about bundling television with fixed and mobile voice and data, it is about being able to offer multiscreen services across different devices.
It is also about pushing the boundaries beyond high definition to 4K or Ultra-High-Definition services. Both BT and Sky are understood to be planning new set-top boxes capable of delivering 4K.
While some people may assume the future of pay-television is all about football, and the outcome of the latest Premier League rights round will no doubt be critical, the ability to deliver services across multiple networks to different devices and screens will be all important.
The reality is that although sport, and football coverage in particular, is important to many viewers, and a marketing differentiator for services, whoever wins the most matches it is not a zero-sum game.
Viewers may end up watching BT Sport on the Sky platform, or Sky Sports on BT, or either on Virgin Media. They are simply worse off if they have to subscribe to multiple packages to watch all the matches.
Only a minority of all television viewers actually watch football in any case. Averaged across all individuals in the country, Sky Sports 1 was watched for at most 28 minutes a week in 2014, while BT Sport 1 peaked at 7 minutes. That is out of average television viewing of over 25 hours a week.
In fact, football is just a distraction. The bigger competition is for the combined communications revenue for each household, across television and video, voice and data, across fixed and mobile networks.