MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: All credit to ITV for saying no to Sky in latest digital twist

Digital television is clearly such a mind-blowing concept - hundreds of TV channels, widescreen formats and interactive services - that it’s sent some executives loopy.

Digital television is clearly such a mind-blowing concept -

hundreds of TV channels, widescreen formats and interactive services -

that it’s sent some executives loopy.

First, the BBC announces it is to spend millions of pounds of licence

payers’ money to sign up as part of BSkyB’s digital package. Of course,

the money will be spent leasing space on the digital satellite and on

the actual costs of broadcasting. Fair enough.

But the BBC also looks set to top up the Sky coffers by paying for Sky’s

conditional access and customer management system.

Now, as a licence payer, I have a few problems with this. Unlike digital

cable, digital satellite does not have to carry free-to-air services

such as the BBC and ITV. So the BBC has to cough up or risk a

significant proportion of the population missing out on its programmes

which it can’t afford to happen if it is to stand a chance of retaining

licence-fee income after the analogue switch-off.

Not only is this unfair on licence fee payers, who would surely rather

the money was spent on more decent programming, but it’s a further

example of Sky benefiting from its stranglehold on the gateway to

satellite TV.

The deal will make digital satellite all the more attractive and

probably make Rupert Murdoch just that little bit richer.

All of which means that I come to Sky’s latest battle with the ITV

companies with a great deal of sympathy for good old ITV. Funnily

enough, the ITV companies don’t want to allow Sky to fill in the last

piece of its digital jigsaw by paying to have their programmes broadcast

on digital satellite.

ITV says it will be concentrating its energies on digital


All of the three big ITV groups have got their own digital terrestrial

assets, through British Digital Broadcasting and United’s S4C tie-up, as

well as through ITV2.

It would be utter madness to expect ITV to capitulate and pay Sky to

kill digital terrestrial at birth. Because that’s exactly what handing

over ITV programming to the Murdoch camp would do. For Sky’s chief

executive, Mark Booth, to describe ITV’s resistance as ’a public service

broadcaster withholding its channels for private gain’ is, at best,

misleading. But Booth knows that if viewers can get their movies, sport

and Corrie on digital satellite, why would they plump for digital

terrest-rial with its lacklustre new channels?

The truth is that digital satellite already holds many aces - top

Hollywood movies, first-class sport, prime US shows and now the BBC. But

at least digital terrestrial has the nation’s favourite ITV shows under

its belt.

To expect ITV shareholders to meekly hand over their usp could threaten

the very foundations on which that usp was built. Viewers and

advertisers need a real alternative to Sky in the digital age and the

only way of ensuring that is to keep ITV’s programmes where they belong:

within the ITV and digital terrestrial fold.


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