Polly\’s gargantuan, massive, huge, fail

Re the BBC and Sky, here.

But here\’s a tidy sum the BBC could recoup for us all. The Murdoch press has relentlessly lobbied to cut the BBC back to a US-style small subscription service for unprofitable programmes. Now, while Murdoch is weakened, is the chance for the BBC to regain lost ground. Here\’s the big issue: when Margaret Thatcher helped Murdoch launch Sky with exemptions from EU broadcasting rules, she added another bonus. She made the BBC pay £10m a year to be transmitted on the Sky platform, although across the rest of Europe commercial broadcasters pay public broadcasters for the privilege of using their content. By rights Sky should pay many hundreds of millions. If the BBC withdrew, Sky would totter since BBC channels are by far the most watched by Sky subscribers, yet Sky charges an average £500 per customer, compared with the BBC\’s £145.50 licence fee –and yet the BBC massively outproduces Sky content. It\’s time Sky paid full value.

It\’s worth going through the comments to get the full, rampant, stupidity of this statement.

The first and most obvious point is that you must already have paid a TV licence fee in order to be able to watch Sky. Even if you don\’t in fact watch any of the BBC programmes at all. So the direction of subsidy seems wrong in the first place.

Then there\’s this:

I\’m sorry but this is just plain wrong.

Sky does not transmit BBC programmes or channels. The BBC rents transmitter (strictly transponder) space on satellites which are for the most part run by a Luxembourg based company called SES Astra. Those channels are what is called \”free to air\” which means that they can be picked up by any suitable satellite receiver. There are currently three kinds of receiver in the UK: Sky, Freesat and Generic.

Sky and Freesat both run Electronic Programme Guide systems. While these are seen by the user as a means of telling what\’s on, behind the scenes they give the receiver the information to tune in to the appropriate transmission. It is possible, but awkward, to receive channels that are not listed in the Sky EPG on a Sky receiver.

Sky\’s EPG is open in principle to all broadcasters at rates approved by Ofcom.

The BBC wants to be on Sky\’s EPG, at least for the time being, because it is afraid that if it were not then those households that take Sky would simply not watch BBC.

Or this:

I\’m sorry Polly, but you\’re wrong on several counts.
Firstly, the BBC DOES NOT pay Sky £10million to be \”transmitted on the Sky platform\”, they pay that sum for regional variations to be supplied to the correct area\’s set-top boxes. Nobody forces the BBC to request that service, it\’s the BBC\’s choice.
The BBC actually pays SES (the owner of the Astra satellites) to be broadcast to the same homes Sky broadcast to. Do you therefore think that SES, a foreign company that spends not short of a fortune providing broadcast satellites, should also be giving free access to the BBC?
Seccondly, I\’m not entirely sure you\’re pointing the finger at the right person as to whom \”made the BBC pay […] to be transmitted on the Sky platform\” (although I like your attempt to put the blame on the Guardian\’s favourite devil, Margret Thatcher). If you actually look at the facts, the BBC wasn\’t broadcast over the Astra satellite system until the launch of Sky Digital in 1998, by which time, I\’m sure you know, Thatcher was well gone from N°10.
As for your argument about the placing of the BBC\’s childrens channels; is it not reasonable and fair that a first come, first served case is applied, or do you think Sky (and Virgin and BT and anyone else providing a platform) should reserve great swathes of higher channel number just in case the BBC decides they want to go into a channel area that others have been providing for longer?
The reason the BBC\’s childrens channels are at the numbers they are is simply because the other channels in that category were there first, it\’s not an anti-BBC conspiracy.
Out of interest, do you think the BBC should get a free service when other\’s have to pay for the same? In which case, do you also think they should (for example) get free electricity, or free taxi rides?

And the number of people who both claim that Sky is a monopoly and then refer to the BBC, Freeview, Virgin etc. *Bangs head on table*. If there\’s competition it\’s not a monopoly is it?


It\’s true that Sky pays many people for content that it then broadcasts. It\’s even possible that it could pay the BBC for content that it then broadcasts. But, you see, the quid pro quo in such arrangements is that, in common with cable systems, satellite systems, free to air systems, the world over, the broadcaster gets to stick ads around the content that it has just expensively acquired.

I\’ve no idea what the Murdochs or anyone else would think of this but I\’m absolutely fine with Sky being encouraged to reach an entirely normal, commercial, contract with the BBC. Just fine with their reaching a deal whereby they cough up anything from thruppence to hundreds of millions to broadcast the content. As long as they\’re allowed to sell that ad space at what they can to go with it.

I\’m even happy for the other variation of such contracts to be used. The BBC sells the adspace and then splits the cash with Sky.

Only that if you\’re going to force them into a commercial rather than privileged contract then you\’ve got to go to a fully commercial contract, don\’t you?

Update, this gets even better:


Greg Dyke\’s speech about the BBC and Sky:

Speech given to the London Business School – Media Alumni Dinner
12 March 2003

From June this year, we will broadcast BBC channels free from encryption. This brings us into line with the way most other public service channels are broadcast in Europe – and we will consequently be paying very little to Sky.
By no longer using the Sky conditional access system we will be able to use some of the money saved to offer all of our different services for the nations and English regions to satellite viewers anywhere in the UK.
That means wherever you are from and wherever you live now, you will be able to choose the local news and other programming you want from anywhere in the UK. If you are a Welshman living in Yorkshire you can still watch BBC Wales. If you are a Londoner living in Orkney you will be able to watch BBC London.
Just think what a benefit that is for the huge numbers of people who have moved away from the place they were brought up but want to stay in touch with their home area. It\’s a great example of using technology to extend the choice we offer our viewers.
To sum up I\’d like to make clear what our decisions on Freeview and digital satellite have in common. For me, they go to the heart of what the BBC is here for.
This move has great advantages for the BBC and for audiences in general.
this is a great chance for us to deliver significant long-term benefits to UK audiences and to help drive digital so that more homes will be able to receive all our services. It allows digital satellite to break free from the straight-jacket of subscription. It will increase its appeal to a wider cross section of people, many of whom are put off satellite by the need for a contract.
Third it offers a subscription-free alternative for the four million people outside the transmission range of Freeview.
Fourth it makes the likelihood of analogue switch off by the end of this decade more likely, and that\’s a policy supported by all the main political parties. When this happens it will mean everyone will be able to receive all our digital television services and true universality will once again exist for the BBC.

Finally the move also means we can make major improvements to the BBC regional services we offer via satellite to our audiences all over the UK.

…our decision today to offer our services free to air on satellite are borne of our continuing commitment to those aims.
We are making all of our services available to more people. We are improving the quality and range of what we offer and we are providing better value for money from the licence fee.
Our decision to get involved in Freeview helped rewrite the rules of digital television and has demonstrated the benefits of providing people with an alternative to subscription television.
Our decision to broadcast our services over satellite, bypassing Sky, is no less significant.
It too will help us follow Reith\’s principle of bringing the best of everything to the greatest number of homes.
Thank you.

7 thoughts on “Polly\’s gargantuan, massive, huge, fail”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    “Sky charges an average £500 per customer, compared with the BBC’s £145.50 licence fee –and yet the BBC massively outproduces Sky content. It’s time Sky paid full value.”

    Anybody pointed out to her that the BBC needs to get the Fuzz to enforce that licence fee while Sky subscribers pay it voluntarily?

    From which, of course, we can conclude that the value of Sky’s product is at least three and a bit times as great as the BBC’s. And that’s being generous to the BBC.

  2. Well none of that’s relevant in Pollyland is it?

    The BBC are “our broadcaster” – stuffed with lovely nice kind left of centre people. Fine folks fighting for the cause!

    Sky on the other hand is run by the unspeakable evil nasty greedy Murdoch bastards who are only interested in filthy lucre.

    Onwards & upwards comrades!

  3. One of the most ironic things to be found on the internet is the denizens of a rugby league fansite pouring vitriol over Sky and Murdoch – which single-handedly ensured their sport survived and gets shown on TV – and praise the BBC which completely ignored RL in favour of RU.

  4. The systemic disease that the left suffer from is believing that what one says is paramount and trancends reality.

    Really, the biggest fail here is to say that Murdoch is “weakened”.

    Did my eyes deceive me, or did the results published a few days ago show that he was a couple of billion dollars richer by the end of 2011?

    And who is it that is selling off its Formula One coverage to Sky because it can no longer afford it?

    No, Polly, if you think about it carefully – steady on old girl, don’t bother then – you will find that Murdoch shutting NOTW was, in fact, a sign of strength, not weakness.

    And this is really, really not the time for the Beeb to get stroppy with Murdoch. The poor old BBC couldn’t afford the lawsuit Bernie Ecclestone would bring if it failed to honour its contract.

  5. Not to mention that, presumably, those channels which broadcast BBC programmes on Sky such as Dave, Watch, & Gold, presumably do pay the BBC for content.

    She seems to miss the essential point that Sky isn’t providing content under its brand, it’s providing infrastructure for the BBC to broadcast on.

    As you point out, the BBC wasn’t broadcast alongside Sky until the introduction of the EPG with Sky’s digital service in around 1998, so I doubt Thatcher had anything to do with it.

  6. SMFS,

    From which, of course, we can conclude that the value of Sky’s product is at least three and a bit times as great as the BBC’s. And that’s being generous to the BBC.

    The problem is that the defenders see everything in terms of production, which is all a bit reminiscent of that Czechoslokian glass company that had stockpiles of glass that no-one wanted.

    I don’t care if the BBC makes another version of Great Expectations, because there’s already 2 versions of it, one of which is considered by the BFI to be the 5th greatest British film ever made. Unless you think you can outdirect David Lean and get a cast as good as John Mills and Valerie Hobson, then you might as well just stick that on
    and find something original to do.

    Personally, I find it interesting that supposedly internationalist progressives think it’s so important that we should have British movies reflecting our culture, despite the fact that they’re normally the people who will throw stones at cultural imperialists who try to claim that Britain is somehow better than anyone else.

  7. “From which, of course, we can conclude that the value of Sky’s product is at least three and a bit times as great as the BBC’s. And that’s being generous to the BBC.”

    Not really, no. Because the price of the BBC is set by the government, not the market. Some people wouldn’t pay £145 for it if they felt they had the choice.. others would pay more if they had no choice.

    Most of the people who pay £500 for Sky do so for either football or movies.. plus the excellent delivery mechanism and supporting technology (Sky+ box, etc) which they, if we are to believe what we are told, use disproportionally to watch BBC (and other ‘free to air’) content.

    If the only way I could get BBC content was to pay £500 then I would pay £500 for it. Though, personally, it’s the radio and online services that I would get the value from… so I wouldn’t pay £500 just for the telly. But, of course, if the price of the BBC was £500, be it ‘compulsory’ or otherwise, the TV content may well improve because they’d be in a position to bid for the premium content stuff that Sky is, quite reasonably, able to control.

    I read today that Apple are sniffing at the Premiership TV rights. If someone like that can find a suitable delivery mechanism then Sky will have a rival and we might see that £500 face a bit of downwards pressure.

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