Andrew Neil, the founding chairman of the then Sky Television, has said a huge question mark will sit over BSkyB while James Murdoch remains in place.
Giving his annual address on behalf of satellite operator SES on the state of the UK television market, the media commentator and former Sunday Times editor said that while Murdoch remained as chairman BSkyB was prevented from strategic thinking.
“The cloud over Sky can be summed up in one word Murdoch, or two James Murdoch, and until that cloud over its ownership resolved it faces problems”.
Neil pointed to the Ofcom fit and proper persons test that could rule Murdoch as unfit to preside over the broadcaster, following the phonehacking scandal that ran during his chairmanship of News International.
Given the high sums involved and the unlikelihood of a single bidder coming forward, as well as the triggering of a full-scale takeover, Neil suggested an alternative scenario that would allow News Corp to proceed. “You sideline the newspapers, bring in an independent board with Chase Carey as chief executive [of News Corp]”. This, said Neil, would open the regulatory door for News Corp to come back into the market and renew its bid to buy all of BSkyB.
Neil, who is the presenter of BBC Two’s The Daily Politics said the House of Commons culture select committee on the phonehacking scandal had delayed the publication of its findings because it was divided over how rude the report should be.
Despite the growth of multichannel television in which he played a part, Neil said that 95% of TV shows were still watched as live or as live. “It turned out we didn’t want to be our own TV schedulers, we’ve got other things to do, this despite the fact that the Sky Plus type devices are still in 50% of households. The TV schedule in the multichannel age still curates what we watch and is still enormously significant. It explains why pay-TV households pay for hundreds of channels they never watch”.
For Neil, a key technology was the ability of mobile devices, tablets and smartphones to perform an increasing number of tasks. This including streaming to the TV set and the ability to transfer content for viewing on the main screen.
Neil described Sky’s for the launch of over-the-top service Now TV as an “insurance policy” against Netflix, Lovefilm and potentially YouView, now slated for a May launch.