Again the headlines read that Sky would be forced to cut the costs of its sports channels and it was good news for consumers. The front pages had said much the same thing at the end of the previous consultation periods. And it was “good news for consumers”. They said that forcing the Premier League to split its live rights into six packages would be good news for consumers as well. At least until it became apparent the cost of subscribing to both Setanta and Sky Sports would cost the consumer more than they were paying before. It cost Setanta quite a bit too.
But surely a reduction in wholesale rates and the obligation on Sky to supply its channels to rival platforms must be a good thing? At the moment you can get the Sky premium sports channels as part of Sky’s DTH package, Virgin Media, or the Sky by Wire service to the few on Tiscali TV. BT and Top Up TV have ESPN, and its two Premier League packages, just as they had Setanta before it.
Anyone who has the Sky Sports package will know the Premier League is usually on Sky Sports 1, Champions League on Sky Sports 2, and everything else fits in around the football. As a cricket fan it is not unusual to return to a match to find the only exciting thing that has happened is a channel change mid-over to Sky Sports 3.
This might turn out to be important: Ofcom is only proposing to regulate Sky Sports 1 and 2 and has said it will frown on any plans to move sports around to encourage subscribers to stay with satellite. For sports read football. The regulator says that it will allow Sky to turn its DTT three DTT channels into pay. The original Picnic proposals were for one Sky Sports channel, alongside Sky One, Sky Movies, Sky News, Disney Channel and Discovery so unless improved compression or some nifty time-slicing rides to the rescue where might the capacity to carry it come from.
There is also surely a threat to ESPN’s UK channel, already facing the loss of one of its two Premier League packages from the start of the next season, its strategy to bundle in with otherwise basic channels must now seem a wise move as its standalone £10 fee must surely be devalued by the arrival of its larger UK competitor on the UK terrestrial platform. (Notice that unlike everywhere else I’m not misusing the Freeview brand, you can’t have pay channels on Freeview, that’s the whole point).
After three years and three consultations it seemed appropriate that the Pay-TV Enquiry should end with another consultation. This time on the use of VOD movie rights that Ofcom is referring to the Competition Commission. But with Sky about to open up its HD boxes to over-the-top content, might this be the time that Sky launches a subscription VOD service anyway?