BSkyB can buy our loyalty but BBC still has our hearts

Tony Ball, whom someone recently described as the broadcaster's equivalent of a Guy Ritchie heavy (cross him and you'll end up as pig fodder?), has been wallowing in good news over the past week, writes Claire Beale.

Profits at BSkyB, where he is the chief executive, this week hit the black for the first time in five years, coming in at £260m, underpinned by a steady rise in the revenue being wrung out per subscriber and a new high of 6.8msigned up for Sky Digital.

The company's programming strategy is key, with blockbuster movie acquisitions and crucial sporting rights locking subscribers in like a vice. Even in households such as mine, where we pay for all the movie channels but haven't watched a single one for several years now, the thought of spotting a must-see movie in the listings one wet Saturday night and not having the right Sky channel is mortifying. So we go on paying.

As for the footie... the obsession in my house with Portsmouth FC (newly, and I rather suspect briefly, promoted to the Premiership this season) means the TV will become a shrine with Sky at the altar head for the next several months.

Which is why, magnified by almost 7m households, last week's Premier League deal was crucial. Even at a whopping cost of £1.024bn, BSkyB could not afford to lose the battle for rights to the UK Premiership football. Without the lure of top sport, the movie and general entertainment channels are exposed as simply nice add-ons; sport arouses the passions and remains the killer must-have.

But what was a necessary triumph for BSkyB was nowhere near the disaster it should have been for ITV, which lost out to the BBC in the battle for the Premier League highlights.

It's not much of a belly blow to ITV because ITV failed miserably to make much of the highlights package, slithering it around the Saturday evening schedule and failing to capture the hearts of viewers or the comfortably familiar and much-loved spirit of the BBC's 'Match of the Day'.

ITV claims it bid what the rights were worth to a commercial broadcaster, or at least a commercial broadcaster with a track record like ITV's. All the light, upmarket male viewers ITV was dangling before the advertising community when it secured the highlights back in 2000 never attached themselves to the football coverage, so they're not there to be lost along with the rights.

Perhaps more worrying, though, is the sense that football is going home to the BBC and that the BBC remains the natural channel for events of national significance (the Queen's Speech and all that). ITV doesn't have the emotional saliency with the public. BSkyB doesn't have it either. But when you can afford £1.024bn to screen football matches you're well on your way to buying the public's affection anyway.

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