Written by Media

Following Up This Week’s Media Talk Podcast

Showing the Other Cheek
An otherwise random photo to illustrate this blog
I quite enjoyed this week’s Guardian Media Talk podcast, but there were a couple of things that needed highlighting or explaining a little more.
The BBC has renewed its complaints with Sky about the £5m a year it pays to get on the Sky platform. There was a decent discussion about the whys and wherefores, but I think it was a little misleading in places.
It needs to be made clear that the £5m the BBC is pays is not actually for satellite carriage. That is indeed an open market consideration with a vendors leasing space on satellite and uplink facilities to it. The £5m is in fact for access to the Sky EPG.
Sky publishes the various different fees it charges channels, including some specific fees that channels including the BBC channels must pay on its website. It would argue that these are for development of the platform, costs incurred in delivering the correct regional version of BBC channels to customers and so on. It’s clear too, that the costs are coming down from 2014 (which I think is the drop of £10m to £5m that has been talked about).
Whether or not Sky is right charging the BBC and other public service broadcasters these fees, is a separate question. But this isn’t a market cost, but something that is solely in the gift of Sky.
I’d certainly argue that Sky does benefit strongly from having BBC channels on its platform. If for some reason they came off, then I can easily foresee lots of angry Sky customers unable to do things like record their favourite programmes on their Sky+ boxes. And it’s worth noting that the BBC and Sky worked together last year during the Olympics to make space for all those extra sports channels providing unrivalled coverage of the games. Sky even spent money advertising the fact that these channels would be available.
I’m not altogether sure that all current Sky customers would be able to receive a DTT signal were BBC channels to come off the Sky EPG. While they’d remain on the other satellite service, Freesat, the lack of Freeview reception in remote parts of the country would almost certainly require some viewers in those areas, and others in flats, or with out of date aerials, to buy a new Freesat boxes to continue watching.
And the other thing not mentioned was the fact that US networks including Fox actually charge cable operators to carry their channels. As in the UK, those big networks still have the bulk of programming that viewers want to watch (although they’ve had a torrid time of it this year), and if a cable operator stopped carrying one of the big networks, they might well lose customers.
Sky’s a commercial business, and I’m not surprised that they’re fighting their corner on this one. But that doesn’t make it right.
What else? I too watched the lovely documentary on Belfast’s registry office – Love and Death in City Hall – last week and thought that it was terrific. But I don’t want to see it spun off into a series. That’s all too common these days – My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding started life as a one-off documentary, but then got spun out into a repetitive series that was creatively blank. There’s nothing wrong with one-off documentaries coming along, leaving their mark, and then going. Sure, there are more “stories to tell” but it’s just a ratings grab and rarely adds much. Ditto all the birth programmes and stories of A&E. In general I’m not a fan of this kind of thing, but I much prefer strands like Cutting Edge or the much missed 40 Minutes that give us a chance to be surprised. They won’t always work, but they’re much better creatively.
Sadly too late to make it into the podcast was the news that the BBC has cancelled its massive Digital Media Initiative. I’ve been trying to understand precisely what they were trying to achieve and failing to an extend. While having all its archive material digitised and searchable internally seems eminently sensible, it sounds like it was the efforts to build a bespoke BBC solution from the ground up that was its failing. And it would certainly seem bizarre to be trying to build internal tools that replicate the functionality of commercially available products from Avid, Adobe and Apple et al. £100m is a lot of money to lose on a project. Questions rightly need answering.
Finally, it wasn’t highlighted anywhere, but I really liked this week’s Sky Playhouse – Stage Door Johnnies. While I think that in general the series has had more misses than hits, this was a good one. Some great actors playing the kind of people who hang around theatre stage doors – in this case during a production of Romeo and Juliet starring Suranne Jones and John Nettles.
I miss “plays” of this nature, whether previously called Play for Today, Screen One or Screen Two amongst many others. It seems one-off films have to be much bigger these days, to be rolled out at Christmas. The only issue I have with Sky is that, perhaps understandably, they’re desperate to have star names.
So while I think it’d be much better if new younger writers were given a go (sometimes it seems that the only routes in are writing for the Royal Court Theatre, or the BBC’s Doctors), rather than pandering to big names who fancy “trying their hand” at writing or directing, and manage to cajole their mates along to help them out. If truth be told, I think that’s also the reason that Sky’s comedies haven’t always lifted off. They have the talent, but they’re giving them almost too much freedom.
Anyway, I shouldn’t complain too much, because Sky is finally putting its money where its mouth is and investing in original UK productions aside from sports coverage.
And I’ll leave the discussion about what happens with Global’s situation for the time being. We’re all awaiting the outcome with interest though!