Media Perspective: Terrestrial's reliance on winning ratings war has been costly
A view from Jeremy Lee

Media Perspective: Terrestrial's reliance on winning ratings war has been costly

Two images stick firmly in the mind from the House of Lords Culture Committee's investigation into TV advertising regulation at the end of last year.

The first was of Kelly Williams, then the sales director at Channel 5, passionately arguing that Contract Rights Renewal needed to be retained at all costs. The other was of Adam Crozier doing his best to push Lord (Melvyn) Bragg's buttons by claiming that its existence meant that ITV was forced to show horrible smash-hit programmes such as The X Factor and not arty fringe formats such as The South Bank Show, which it dropped after 33 years.

While Williams, as a professional salesman, is entirely free to change his patter according to his paymaster and, since landing the top sales job at the broadcaster, has presumably subsequently reassessed his views on CRR (at the time, he said that "the market needs to be protected" from ITV), Crozier's current position on worthy but unpopular programmes is less clear.

But he could be forgiven for worrying that one day soon, his comments might come back to haunt him - and I'm sure Lord Bragg will be among the first to call. Last week, Lord Bragg hosted a resurrected The South Bank Show Awards on Sky's niche channel Sky Arts, which is now running a follow-up series of documentaries about the winners.

Unaware of Sky Arts' position on the EPG (and, in truth, being a bit of a philistine), I didn't see the awards show and am unlikely to tune in to any of the ensuing documentaries, but that doesn't matter. What does matter is that the moral high ground - once solely occupied by the terrestrials, and spoken of only in hushed and reverential tones as "publicservice broadcasting"- is now being occupied by "Rupert Murdoch's evil BSkyB".

Channel 4, once the most overtly commercial PSB channel, has now been forced to turn to gypsies to prop up its schedule, while Channel 5's obligations now look so loose that Richard Desmond will probably be allowed by Ofcom to claim that the promised OK! TV masthead programming counts as having cultural value.

With Sky launching its Sky Atlantic channel, showing the best of HBO programming, this week, it has moved from being the home of The Simpsons, football and little else to the broadcaster with the most diverse schedule of them all.

Its terrestrial rivals, meanwhile, are trapped in the ratings battle that Crozier alluded to and now have to play it safe by trying to get the highest ratings hits in order to protect their share of advertising revenue. Increasingly, they are becoming indistinguishable from one another. Their decision to rely on advertising revenue, rather than introduce a pay-element, has cost them dear.

Jeremy Lee is associate editor of Campaign