Ofcom’s pay-TV enquiry has entered a new phase, but Julian Clover would rather curl up with a good book.
It was curious that when Ofcom published its latest statements as part of the ongoing pay-TV review it was a nine-month old proposal that hit the headlines. The idea of a regulated wholesaling of Sky’s premium movie and sports channels was first raised last September. Sky of course already has a wholesale offer, but one that like so many things Osterley, Virgin Media has taken a disliking to. It says there is no profit in retailing Sky Sports and Sky Movies, though if it were to drop the channels many subscribers would no doubt look elsewhere.
Virgin was one of the four parties, the others being BT, Top Up TV and Setanta, who called on the regulator Ofcom to launch a market investigation into the pay-TV industry. In a where were you when Kennedy was shot kind of moment, I can tell you where I was, having just attended a briefing on the launch of Freeview+. The PVR product has now notched up one million sales, an achievement in itself, but this was March 20, 2007.
The Labour administration that has formed the British government since 1997 is sometimes ridiculed for its pre-occupation with consultants, and normally condemned for not having enquiries, but surely this is currently the longest running investigation in British public life? As a card carrying NUJ member I shouldn’t complain, but I’m not just thinking of myself.
The outcome of the enquiry could take even longer. Sky has raised the prospect of challenging any outcome in the courts and is already mounting a stern defence. Sky COO Mike Darcey this week talked about the investment that could be at risk if Ofcom pursued its proposals to reduce the Sky wholesale ratecard by 30%. He described the move as being a subsidy, at Sky’s expense, for BT and Virgin Media “two companies which have shown very little appetite for content investments of their own”.
There lies the rub; the two most successful multichannel TV providers in the UK are arguably Sky and UKTV, both of whom have invested in original content for their audience, albeit at different levels. While I can still dream that UKTV will make a new series of Softly, Softly Task Force, there has been a new series of sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf and more than half the content of the Good Food Channel is original content. The success of the multichannel services spun out of the PSBs is half due to brand and half down to the creation of new programmes.
Darcey highlighted Martina Cole’s The Take, a recent Sky One original drama, and something of a departure for the channel whose previous dramas have largely been football or fantasy. The value to Sky of something like The Take or The Hogfather cannot be underestimated.
Ofcom will in time draw its conclusions on the acquisition of sports and movie rights, but there’s plenty of good books out there waiting to be filmed.