The future status of Sky News remains at the hub of discussions about News Corporation’s proposed takeover of BSkyB. Indeed its complications appear to be the cause of a delay in the Secretary of State’s expected go-ahead. But, as we have stated here before, the ownership of Sky News is only part of the problem. (See “Full response to Hunt consultation on BSkyB”, 19 March 2011.) And no-one should be deceived into thinking that Jeremy Hunt’s envisaged new Communications Act will address the very serious concerns about media plurality, already damaging democracy.
But let us consider the matter from the viewer’s perspective. Yesterday, we heard that the popular Glee series has been bought by Sky. It was reported that Sky offered Glee‘s distributors, Twentieth Century Fox Distribution, more than double that previously paid by Channel 4 for airing on its digital free-to-view channel, E4. A similar fate recently befell Mad Men, when the BBC was massively outbid by Sky. With so much sport appearing exclusively on Sky, and News Corporation’s aspirations to buy Formula One, the outlook is bleak for the millions of viewers who do not subscribe to Sky, for whatever reason. The choice is to either pay up or do without. And the choice is about to get a whole lot worse if News Corp take over the whole of BSkyB.
Coincidentally, there was a more optimistic story in yesterday’s Guardian. It said that the future of public service broadcasting “is brighter” than we think. “With the finances of commercial broadcasters Channel 4 and ITV looking more healthy, they are investing more in public service content.” Great to hear, but will those finances continue to be strong in the face of increasing competition from Sky, already benefitting from a cash-strapped BBC? More worryingly, if Sky is completely owned by News Corporation, its spending power will be indomitable. Mr Hunt may be relaxed about it but it is we, the viewer, who will be paying.
With increasing numbers of subscribers, magnitude and dominance, BSkyB may as well call itself the new BBC – but with advertising and without the constitution, integrity and public service ethic. And BSkyB BBC will cost us far more than a licence fee.