Nobody knows whether viewers or advertisers actually want up to 500
channels of television in the UK. But we’re about to find out, courtesy
of Rupert Murdoch. Once again, while others talk about the potential of
technology, Murdoch and his UK viceroy, Samuel Chisholm, are going to
spend several hundred million pounds to put the matter to the test.
It doesn’t matter whether BSkyB does launch as many as 500 channels next
autumn - the ‘up to’ disclaimer gives understandable leeway to drop the
odd 50 or 100 channels from the line-up without anybody really caring.
It is important, however, to find out if there is a market for a wide
range of very specialist channels - in effect a new medium, the
equivalent of glossy magazines on television. The approach being taken
is imaginative. BSkyB is planning to co-operate with a wide range of
broadcasters, including the BBC and probably Virgin. The talks with the
BBC involve the Corporation providing as many as a dozen channels for
the new venture. By opening the doors as it already has with Granada,
BSkyB has, with neat footwork, found a way of solving the problem of
where all the programmes are going to come from. With all Murdoch’s
rivals lining up inside the tent pissing out simultaneously, it will
also be rather difficult for them to continuing raging against the undue
dominance of Murdoch in satellite television. It would, of course, still
be possible to take a selection of the new channels and put them on
digital terrestrial television, but the odds are now really starting to
lengthen against DTT.
Satellite will always be primarily a subscription business from the
point of view of the media owner. But advertisers should be starting to
do some serious thinking about what sort of channels they would like to
see in this new digital world and get involved in the planning process.
They could even have their own advertising channel of the sort already
being shown on BT’s video-on-demand experiment in Essex. It is time for
the imagination to run free. The channel of your dreams could be there
for the asking.
This digital world will be ideal for sport. There can be a channel for
every sport, and on Saturday afternoons a channel for every game in the
Premier League. Here again BSkyB has been clever.
As speculation gets ever more frenzied about whether the bidder for the
Premier League rights will have to come up with pounds 500m or pounds
1bn, BSkyB threatens to outflank its rival again with another co-
operative deal, this time with the League.
Instead of buying the rights, BSkyB is simply going to sub-lease them as
it does films from the Hollywood studios. The League will get a
proportion of every subscription, so if BSkyB continues to flourish the
Premier league will get every penny of its share. Simple. Like all good
Raymond Snoddy is Financial Times media correspondent