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...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, March 02, 2007

Day 2251: Sky(ve) Off – Virgin on the Ridiculous

Thursday:


Viewers of that FLEETING Twenty-First Century Phenomenon, TELEVISION, will probably know that there has been a bit of a FALLING OUT between two of the PYGMIES of British Broadcasting: "Virgin Media" (the cable people) and "BSkyB" (the satellite dish people).

Up until Wednesday, if you were a cable person you could watch SOME of the satellite people's programmes. Now you can't.

Apparently, this is because Sky wanted more money and Virgin didn't think they were worth it.

I will declare an interest: I do not watch Sky television. I do not LIKE Sky television. I will not let Daddy have one of their space-woks stuck to the side of my flat!

[R: not that we want one.]

We quickly got bored with Battleham Galacticake so we don't even watch the free one, Sky Three. I do not like Sky. They have a few decent shows, but they get them unfairly cheap because of their links to Fox in America. Their news channel is ugly and brash and has a right-wing agenda. And they are part of a group – News International – that has gone out of its way to spoil and cheapen newspapers and television. And they have too much influence already.

So, funnily enough – and despite Virgin Media being run by self-aggrandising beardy billionaire Sir Branson Pickle – I don’t have much SYMPATHY with one of the sides in this dispute.


Still, they DO seem to be going out of their way to be annoying. Rather than negotiations, it would appear that Sky have spent the last few days writing big letters to place in all the newspapers, saying how MUCH they love telly and how much they want to bring their "great shows" like "brand new" Simpsons, Lost, 24 and Battleham Galacticake.

We have increased our investment in channels and programmes by 68% they say! (Does this mean that "Hogfather" was FOUR hours long instead of THREE?)

They say that this is why they have provided the top 25 most watch pay-channel programmes in cable homes this year. Although personally (and remembering that "Torchwood" was hailed as the "most watched non-sport digital-channel show" when its launch double bill scored 2.3 millions) I suspect that it is because they have BOUGHT ALL the FOOTBALL.

Sky say that it is ALL Virgin's fault for dropping their channels, as only Virgin can choose what is on their cable.

(I am sure that the Sky people felt the same when they dropped the BBC news from their satellite in the '90s at the behest of the Chinese government.)

The Sky people tried SOOOOO hard to make a deal – they say – even "including proposing a way for Sky to retail channels directly to cable customers in a way that would cost Virgin Media nothing."

Hang on, Sky is saying that they want Virgin to supply and maintain the cables so that Sky can sell their channels and take ALL the money themselves. I wonder why Virgin did not agree to this idea!

Actually, this is not an unfamiliar Sky strategy. Sky have already announced that they will be PULLING their programmes from the FREEVIEW package too, although they spin replacing free telly with a pay-to-view service as "bringing their top shows to terrestrial digital". In this case, Sky want the BBC to play patsy – maintaining the transmitter network for Sky to cream off the profits.

In fact, for people who profess to LOVE television, they have made an AWFUL LOT OF EFFORT over the years to STOP PEOPLE WATCHING: what with grabbing exclusive broadcasts for themselves and trying to deny other channels access to their satellites or burying their channel listings.

You could be forgiven for thinking that when they say "competition keeps us on our toes" they actually mean "we want to see the competition sleeping with the fishes"! Particularly since in 1999 News International were found guilty of anti-competitive practices by the Office of Fair Trade.

Still, I'm sure Virgin Viewers were VERY upset to lose Thursday evening's quadruple bill of "The Simpsons" followed by three hours of reheated American imports about (a) a pathologist and a cop, (b) a fireman, and (c) a team of cops and pathologists.

And this weekend they will be forced to live without Saturday's Primetime offering of a double bill of "The Simpsons in Space" "Futurama"[*] and ANOTHER three hours of reheated American imports, this time about (a) that pathologist and cop again, (b) a psychotic anti-terrorist agent, and (c) a team of plastic surgeons. Oh, not forgetting the highlight of the evening, and Sky's contribution to "original television" for Saturday: 8pm – "Project Catwalk", billed as:

"Kelly Osbourne hosts a search for Britain's hottest new designer, aided by fashion gurus including Julien Macdonald and Ben de Lisi."

How will the Virgin viewers cope without THAT!



[*]Okay, "Futurama" is actually very good – but you can get ALL four seasons of it on DVD; not sure how "brand new" that makes it!

1 comment:

Paul Gregory said...

despite Virgin Media being run by self-aggrandising beardy billionaire Sir Branson Pickle
This is just one of a number of factual errors in your piece which I feel the need to address. VM is not run by Branson, although VM do deliberately encourage the impression that he does, and use him as a figurehead. Yes, he is able to demand VM do things like remove the label "Sky Snooze - try BBC" from the vacant Sky News EPG entry. But he does not run VirginMedia, nor does he own a majority of VM.

[Sky] have a few decent shows, but they get them unfairly cheap because of their links to Fox in America.
No. Not all of Sky's programming comes from Fox. Lost is from ABC. Battlestar is Sci-Fi/NBC, with the first season (and therefore much of the start-up costs of sets etc) co-funded by Sky. Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis... there's lots that is not from Fox and this stuff costs money - like football. I can't see how you can argue that Sky get shows unfairly cheap and also imply some shows are unfairly expensive.

they have made an AWFUL LOT OF EFFORT over the years to STOP PEOPLE WATCHING
Admittedly, if Sky hadn't outbid C4 for Lost, Lost wouldn't be on Sky One. But Sky's main objective is not to ensure that as many people as possible see as much quality TV as possible by acting altruisticly and allowing C4 to retain Lost. Sky are out to make money. This is perfectly reasonable. As it happens, Sky are better than C4 at showing Lost - they have it in HD and they aren't sitting on it for months. It is possible to show something to less people and still be better. I never understand why it is "anti-competitive" to win.

Still, [Sky] DO seem to be going out of their way to be annoying.
Virgin are also "highly annoying" in their open letter adverts, trying to make out that having Lost on video-on-demand means that there's just as much "content" in total. This shows a total lack of understanding - people follow shows, they don't just want content. Being able to watch Seasons 1 & 2 of Lost from August 2007 is not comparable to being able to watch fresh Season 3 episodes just a few days behind America.

I suggest that Virgin's adverts are more annoying. They are spending money convincing customers that they don't need the channels that VM don't want to pay more money for - rather than just paying the extra money that is being asked.

Sky's adverts tell people who want Sky One where they can get it. VM's tell people they don't really want it.

... [Sky] provided the top 25 most watch pay-channel programmes in cable homes this year ... "Torchwood" was hailed as the "most watched non-sport digital-channel show" ... I suspect that it is because they have BOUGHT ALL the FOOTBALL.
You've spotted the non-sport part of the Torchwood statement but missed the pay-channel part of the Sky statement. BBC3 is not considered a pay-channel. The Torchwood statement covers all digital platforms. There is very little that you can deduce from the two statements except for the fact that cable viewing must be less than 2.3million. But that's academic; no matter how many viewers each of the top 25 programmes had, it will still be more than #26.

Sky say that it is ALL Virgin's fault for dropping their channels, as only Virgin can choose what is on their cable. I am sure that the Sky people felt the same when they dropped the BBC news from their satellite in the '90s at the behest of the Chinese government.
Different Sky people, but still academic. Governments can choose what is not on platforms. But this leads into the direct retail idea, which you also poo-poo.

The direct retail idea would presumably include a way of Sky paying VM for access, otherwise the line "that would cost VM nothing" wouldn't be true. It is notable that such an arrangement is possible on Sky's platform, but not VM's. Sky are also able to provide their channels directly on DTT. Cable is therefore the most "closed" platform, which is interesting from a competition perspective. Sky's DTT move is a positive.

although they spin replacing free telly with a pay-to-view service as "bringing their top shows to terrestrial digital. I can't see the spin in that factually correct statement. For some of their top shows, they only have pay-tv rights. Newer episodes of more shows would be available on DTT. Yes, they would no longer be providing three channels for free.

In short, I fail to see why Sky should negotiate further than they already have. The contract was up for renewal. Sky have a new rate. Sky have a new package. The package is greater than previously - it includes HD content. If VM wanted to ensure that Sky's rates didn't go up more than they wanted, they should have had a better contract previously. VM's move has made it impossible to compare the Sky platform to the cable platform in any meaningful way.

Filling the gaping hole in cable's line up with another Virgin channel is the equivalent of Virgin Trains only selling Virgin Cola and not Coca-Cola - an attempt to gain market share by making the market leader unavailable.

So both sides have something to gain and something to lose from Sky One not being on VirginMedia.

Further, it is difficult to ascertain whether Sky's rate to VM is a fair market rate because VM are now the only major cable operator in the market. There's nothing to compare it to.

PS: You note that quadruple bills of Groening animation are followed by US shows. Yes. The majority of Sky's top shows are US primetime shows that cannot easily be shown before 8pm. Other channels have tried to spread them out in the schedules but have ended up cutting bits out, or omitting key episodes. How something is aired is as important as what. Even though Project Catwalk wouldn't look out of place on VirginMedia's own Living channel, at least Sky One will broadcast it in 16:9.