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BT comes over all Luvvie

Honestly, BT, you need to put things into perspective. It was a week ago that the UK telco published its latest quarterly results, which didn’t make for particularly happy reading with Q3 revenue down 6 per cent. Today though, BT is all smiles and excitement. The reason: a new logo for its BT Sport channels, ahead of their launch this summer on its struggling hybrid digital terrestrial/IPTV service.

Apparently frustrated with the lack of subscriber take-up of the BT Vision service (six years after launch, it reportedly has around 770,000 subscribers, with most viewers preferring to stick with the far more popular Sky or Virgin alternatives), BT has upped its spending. It scored a major coup by buying the rights to screen 38 live Premiership football matches (much to the annoyance of Sky) and signed up popular BBC sports presenter Jake Humphrey to anchor its programmes. It has finally realised that it needs unique, exclusive, and highly desirable content to stand a chance of being successful. Mind you, it doesn’t come cheap, the 3-year deal with the Premiership cost them £738m.

The new logo “mixes heritage and innovation” screamed the headline of the press release. You what? BT helpfully describes the logo in great detail:

“Contained in a black lozenge shape, the left-hand corner features the traditional corporate BT font, with partial elements of the globe in red, yellow, lilac, purple and green. The rest of the logo is the word sport in white lettering in a bespoke new font based on gotham. Unusually for a sport logo, the lettering features lower case instead of just upper case.”

Well, how impressive. Corporate re-branding also results in much criticism and incredulity over the vast costs incurred and lame excuses to justify this expense. Remember when AT&T Labs spun off Lucent and came up with what looked like a coffee cup stain? Or when British Airways dropped its iconic tail design based on the Union Flag in favour of a multitude of multicultural abstract designs? Then prime minister Margaret Thatcher (in one of her more populist moments) was scathing about it, covering one of the new tailfins on a model 747 with a handkerchief saying, “We fly the British flag, not these awful things”.

BT didn’t mention how much this all cost, but did confirm that they used an outside agency to create it – and we all know that these agencies don’t come cheap (go watch some episodes of the brilliant comedy set around the build-up to the London Olympics, ‘Twenty Twelve”, and the fictional agency Perfect Curve – which is scarily accurate).

Red Bee Media, for it is them, “mixes the BT Connected World brand imagery with a new font developed specifically for the new brand”. There’s that reference to the new font again. We’ve copied the logo here, and you check out a decent version by clicking the image below this article. Impressed by the unique font? See the difference? I see the Emperor is wearing a fine set of new clothes…

Grant Best, senior channel executive producer at BT Sport, did his best to praise the virtues of…. a logo…

“We wanted to build on the familiarity of the BT brand, and also appeal to customers who have not considered BT before as a sports broadcaster. We have used the BT connected world globe, with a twist. The globe colour palette allows us flexibility to introduce elements of creativity throughout our new sports channels, giving us a unique look and feel.”

We are obviously having a bit of a laugh at BT’s expense here. Quite frankly, a new logo for one of its channels is the least of BT’s concerns as it tries to make its BT Vision service a true contender in the UK entertainment marketplace. The hyperbole surrounding a new font that looks 99 per cent the same as an established commercial font is ridiculous. There will be plenty of graphic designs and typographers that will be having fits at this news.

We need to step back to last week’s results and the following statement from BT CEO Ian Livingston:

“More than 13m premises can access our fibre broadband and we are passing around 100,000 additional premises every week. Take-up is growing strongly with around 1.25m homes and businesses now enjoying the benefits of faster speeds. This gives us an excellent platform for our push into TV and Sport later this year. Our pre-season training is going well. We have secured attractive new content and world class production facilities at the Olympic Park and are building a strong team.”

This comment was made at the very front of the results press release – it’s very important to Livingston and his team that BT Vision succeeds. Buried deep in the release was the news that the service had added 21,000 customers in the quarter, but no news about losses; we have no idea as to the net additions.

Remember that BT has around 770,000 subscribers to its TV service, having just added 21,000 in the quarter. Virgin Media has 4.35m subscribers. And whilst Virgin is no longer chasing new subscribers outside of its cable footprint (i.e., those having to rely on BT’s copper network), it is more interested in up-selling its existing customers – subscribers to its Tivo DVR service more than doubled in the last quarter with 273,000 net additions, bringing the total to 435,000 (12 per cent of its total TV customer base).

Meanwhile, market-leading Sky is facing a similar problem to Virgin – how to get more out of its existing customer base. The satellite giant now has 10.3m subscribers, although net growth in the previous quarter (announced yesterday) was just 25,000 – still more than BT Vision, mind you… For Sky, that’s a pathetically small number. However, Sky’s internet TV movie service, branded as ‘Now TV’, also signed up 25,000 new subscribers in the past quarter.

But what all these Pay TV services have to remember is this: There are still an estimated 13m households in the UK that don’t have a TV subscription package. That’s a huge market opportunity. Anyone who says it’s already game over is wrong, there’s still a lot to play for. Can BT break into the duopoly held by Sky and Virgin? It’s going to need more than a new logo if it’s serious about doing so.

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