THIS WEEK: MEDIA SPEAK; Imagination puts Murdoch ahead in channels race

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.

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

ideas.



Raymond Snoddy is Financial Times media correspondent