Premier League football set to take on Strictly and X Factor in dash for TV cash
Prime-time Premier League football on Saturday nights was given the green light by club bosses on Thursday, when they unanimously backed plans for the next set of domestic broadcast rights.
The league has already told industry regulator Ofcom that it will be increasing the number of live matches available to broadcasters from 168 a season in the current three-year deal, to at least 190 from 2019/20 - half of the season's 380 games.
But at a meeting in London the clubs have now given the Premier League permission to sell up to 210 games a season, which will almost certainly include a package of games at 7.45pm on Saturday nights, more games on bank holidays and more midweek games.
Press Association Sport understands that the commitment to not showing any live games between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on Saturdays will continue but it is entirely possible that some televised games will go head to head or overlap.
An invitation to tender for the various packages of games - via sealed bids - will be made before the end of the year, with the winning bids chosen by the end of February.
The last two sales of domestic rights have seen 70 per cent increases in their value, taking the total to £5.1billion for the current three-year deal, which saw Sky Sports take the lion's share of games and BT settle for Saturday evening games.
Those two domestic giants are expected to compete for the majority of matches this time, too, but most analysts are predicting a much more modest increase in the total price.
It is hoped, however, that by selling more games, at different time slots, the league can surprise the market, particularly if new entrants, such as Amazon or Facebook, can be persuaded to bid for rights.
The Saturday prime-time slot has been discussed as an option for years but industry insiders have wondered if it could backfire, as it would mean Premier League football competing with the likes of Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor.
But with BT, Sky, Virgin and others all now offering "multi-room" subscriptions, which enable customers to watch different programmes on different set or devices at the same time, it is understood that concerns over provoking family fights for the remote control have subsided.