Clover’s Week: Will Sky give the BBC cashback on its licence fee?

Julian Clover on the latest demands on Sky to reduce the amount it charges PSBs to appear on its platform.

It one of those stories that won’t go away. The amount of money that the UK’s public service broadcasters pay to appear on the BSkyB platform.

Collectively £9.5 million is paid between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. Yes, European readers these are all public service channels, or at least they have a certain amount of public service responsibilities.

These used to be in return for their five slots on the old analogue service, but now the delights of digital mean that anyone with several million pounds to spend can get themselves onto the terrestrial system.

But not everyone uses terrestrial television, particularly on the main receiver, and 40% take their viewing from Sky. Culture minister Ed Vaizey wants Sky to waive its charges saying that the cost is being imposed on the licence fee payer.

It’s not that often that the government comes out in favour of the licence fee payer. After all it is the BBC that funds the free TV licence for the over 75s – and one gets the impression that if like bus passes the universal benefit comes to an end, it won’t necessarily be the BBC that gets the cashback, having already been top-sliced for digital switchover, local TV and broadband rollout.

Sky has been reducing the fees paid by the PSBs, using the lever of adding the catch-up TV services to its platform, and then providing it as a ‘free’ service to anyone who subscribes through the Sky+ HD boxes. This mechanism will take the costs to around £7 million by 2014.

The BBC is certainly getting value. There are currently 49 BBC services on the Sky platform including the new HD versions of the national regions and the Cambridge regional news. I mention this because for 15 minutes of news a day the BBC has a dedicated portion of bandwidth and pays a fee to Sky to make sure its at 101 in the programme guide.

Such services were a candidate for the chop and if that were to happen myself and everyone else would have to retune to Freeview.

The DTT platform is of course operated in part by the BBC, as is YouView and of course Freesat, where the boxes automatically choose the regional programmes by postcode. I wonder if that reduces the fee?