LONDON, England — Britain’s BT Group launched its long-expected television service delivered over broadband Internet on Monday, and said it hoped to sign up between 2 to 3 million users over the medium term.
The former UK telecoms monopoly, which joins an expanding club of European groups offering so-called quadruple-play services by launching the service, said BT Vision would initially be offered to existing broadband customers and would not carry any monthly subscription charges.
BT already offers fixed-line, mobile and Internet services across the UK and BT Vision is its latest attempt to expand its revenue streams and boost customer loyalty for its broadband products in a market that is seeing a number of “free” offers.
“BT Vision is ideal for people who want more choice than Freeview delivers but who want that extra choice without being tied to a pricey, long-term subscription,” said Ian Livingston, chief executive of BT Retail, the group’s consumer unit.
BT Vision will be delivered via a set-top box combining a Freeview digital TV receiver with a personal video recorder that will be able to store content, pause or rewind live TV delivered over high-speed Internet connections to the television.
BT is offering the set-top box, worth 199 pounds ($392), free of charge to existing users or users signing up for its up to 17.99-pound-a-month basic broadband package for 18 months.
The group said its TV customers could either subscribe to content or pay each time they use it. Subscriptions can be monthly, and BT said it would make available new movies on a pay-per-view basis at lower prices than its pay-TV rivals or high street video chains.
Monthly subscriptions range between 3 pounds for television replays to 6 pounds each for TV, kids content and music videos. It plans to charge up to 2.99 pounds for films and premium music concerts on an on-demand basis.
BT has signed up content deals with a raft of Hollywood studios, record companies, documentary and childrens’ program makers for the IPTV (Internet protocol TV) service which will run on a software platform supplied by Microsoft.
On Monday, it said it would launch a new sports service next summer and unveiled a deal with Irish pay-TV company Setanta under which it would gain access to the Setanta’s sport channel and its 46 live FA Premiership games and 60 live games from the Scottish Premier League and other sport.
BT said its BT Vision service would expand next year to include interactive services such as voting, gaming and gambling and would enable customers to chat with each other or use video telephony while watching programs.
BT is the second company in Britain after cable group NTL to offer quadruple-play services, and its latest move will place it in direct competition with NTL and satellite broadcaster BSkyB which dominate the pay-TV market.
While TV and video over the Internet is relatively new in Britain, Italian broadband provider Fastweb has been providing it for years along with telecoms groups in France, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Netherlands.
In Britain, BT is the second to provide TV and video over broadband. Video Networks International, a company which merged the UK business of Italy’s Tiscali this year, has provided such services around London for some year under the Homechoice brand.