The BBC wants to stop paying Sky ten million pounds a year for EPG listing
Six weeks ago I wrote a an article about how much the BBC is Paying Sky for free public service television channels
Today on The Media Show: BBC savings strategy (see 17:30) the BBC have announced they are not going to put up with it.
Below is a transcript of the two interviews from the programme between award-winning Steve Hewlett and the BBC's John Tate and consultant Matthew Horsman from Mediatique.
Steve Hewlett: The BBC and Sky look set to fall out over something else, BBC strategy chief told us in that interview. The BBC has commissioned a firm of consultants to look at what the corporation pays sky to carry BBC channels on the sky platform.
The report recons it is about ten million pounds a year that a) takes no account of the value of having the BBC channels there in the first place and b) is unlike the position in comparable market where they say that other cable satellite and other platform operators pay so called retransmission fees to free to air broadcasters for the right to carry their channels
This is what John Tate told me
John Tate: I think sky does excellent job they have taken a lot of risks and they are putting money into UK original content they increasing that money and I welcome that I think however in the context of a very tight licence fee settlement payment from us to them for retransmitting what are to them are highly valuable services is not appropriate.
SH: so is that now the BBC's formal position going into the communications act?
JT: well we said some time ago, the dg said quite clearly this areas needs looking at. And I think the other public service broadcasters channel four and five and ITV would also want it looking at.
SH: Have you discussed it with them?
JT: Yes, we have discussed it with them. I think we would all agree that the current system is an anomaly. You know, various measures were taken to get satellite started in the UK, and this was one of them and satellite is very healthy and they are making billions of pounds every year and next to that profitability and our constrained licence fee we need to look again at this particular concession.
SH: Will you want the government to legislate that you no longer have to pay sky and virgin for carriage?
JT: You could consider it deregulation, in the sense of allowing an open conversation to take place
SH: why can't this just be done by normal commercial negotiation? If the value to sky is as significant as you say it is from having BBC's channels on its platform and I can see why it might be they wouldn't want people exiting the sky platform to find BBC somewhere else, reducing the customer experience. If it is of value to sky as you say, merely threatening to take it away should produce a commercial outcome.
JT: That a good question. The government might want to consider if it should be left to a commercial conversation.
SH: Sky would say "if you are going to compel us to carry it pay us for doing it".
JT: I think if it were a commercial negotiation, the balance of advantage is to sky for taking those channels. That should be reflected in the arrangement. The dg has said we are not looking for payment in the case of the BBC, others can state their own positions, and we would look to not having to pay these retransmission fees.
SH: over the course of the licence fee settlement between now and 2017, if this change was to be enacted as you and the other public service broadcasters want, how much revenue it save the BBC?
JT: It is the equivalent of not having to make the reductions in output local radio plus the reductions in BBC four to give you a service-related figure. Overall fifty million pounds over the period.
SH:And what would you do with the fifty million pounds if you had it back.
JT: We could mitigate the cuts I have just described - we would not have to make them.
SH: In our earlier discussion some of these cuts sound like good sense in any event.
JT: I have been very clear that there are cuts in outputs that we would not have made but for the new licence fee settlement and it are those areas that the money we pay sky to broadcast our channels could be put to much better use.
SH: ten million pounds a year minimum could be spend on local radio and BBC four. So is he right or is his playing politics? Sky were unable to join us but they gave us this statement:
"The BBC chooses to buy platform services that enable it to provide a wide variety of services on the satellite platform. As with any broadcaster that uses our platform we ask for a 'fair and proportionate' contribution to its running costs. Of course if the BBC no longer wants to buy these services from us, it is free to stop doing so at any point, but these are legitimate costs which are regulated by Ofcom. All broadcasters who choose to use platform pay them. We don't see the BBC as being the exception to this principle, no one expect the national grid to provide the BBC with cheap electricity subsidized by its other customers so why is sky any different?"
Matthew Horsman is a man who understands these things. Can you in "idiots guide" terms explain what this ten million pounds?
Matthew Horseman: The ten million pounds is the charge that Sky makes to ensure that the right BBC service is in the right region of the country - SO that is the starting point.
SH: SO all the BBC one regions are all carried on sky?
MH: they are all carried and wherever you happen to be in the country the set box will get the right service and in general it is a way of ensuing that the service gets from where the BBC gives it the transponder the uplink all the different things that go on technically and then it subsumed into the sky platform so anyone who has sky TV gets their BBC service on channel 101.
The twenty-million pound a year Sky map
SH: so why shouldn't the BBC pay for this?
MH: right now it has to and everyone does by the way, not the BBC all the mainstream public service broadcasting channels and indeed any channel that wants to go onto the sky platform that isn't retailed by sky, isn't part of the pay of the pay TV package that sky sells onto the consumer have to pay their share Ofcom has deemed to be an allowable recovery again sky's investment in the platform.
SH: but the argument from the BBC then that leave aside what is costs sky to host the BBC services that sky is paying nothing to reflect the value of those services to sky?
MH: here is where the BBC completely has a point. Sky's viewing for instance is pretty indicative of this. On the sky platform that has 400 channel services, the core public service broadcasters - BBC 1, 2, ITV1, channel 4 and channel 5 represent 50% - that's half - of all viewing in sky homes. If you add in the extension channels, BBC3, BBC4, ITV2, 3, 4 etc, it is more than 60%, so Sky obviously benefits a great deal from having the channels that people want to watch incorporated into its consumer boxes.
SH: all sky viewers are also licence fee payers, they have no choice but to do that this content is already paid for by sky's customers, so why shouldn't they get it "free" on sky as they do everywhere else.
MH: This comes to the larger point that Mr Tate was making in his comments the BBC is a bit different from the rest of the public service broadcasters, but look broadly why this argument has come up, and what Tate said other countries actually have a regime where free to air channels, give the US as an example, NBC, CBS, ABC those are all paid by cable operators to be retransmitted;
SH: in a nutshell - what is going to happen here?
MH: there needs to be some kind of guidance from the government either in the comms bill or as secondary legislation that says that sky is obliged to pay fees or the parties are commercially able to negotiate fees with the backstop of saying they still have access to the platform with appropriate prominence and "must carry" legislation in place. We think the end games is that sky will end up not being paid by the BBC and having to pay the other channels.
Clearly BBC has an interest in getting its broadcasts offered via satellite, and should be prepared to pay a proper price for the service of broadcasting them.
But if that can be done WITHOUT automatically making them available to Sky subscribers I can see no reason why BBC should pay anything to Sky. Rather Sky should be paying BBC a great deal to be allowed to include BBC channels in its service.
I simply do not understand the EPG issue. Does Sky have a satellite EPG monopoly? We have one TV on Freesat (NOT from Sky) and it certainly has an EPG. Where from?
I would certainly think that including BBC in an EPG was a very small thing compared to the benefit to Sky, who would certainly lose huge numbers of subscribers if they did not include BBC channels in their offer.
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Ian: Sky would waive the fees because they don't want a full investigation into their subscription business. Sky take most of the money off the top of the regular entertainment pack subscriptions and use it to subsidise the sports and movie packages.
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Ian: Sorry, I misread the headline, assuming something that I shouldn't have, that Sky had decided to do so.
The fact is, Sky charge the channels a 'Platform Contribution Charge' which has nothing to do with the costs incurred - it is weighted to the share of viewing. This is actually the majority of the money, the BBC being charged £9.89m overall, £4.78m for BBC One alone. The platform is very well-developed and this charge should be entirely dropped, for all channels.
The actual EPG charges per EPG slot are outrageous too, costing approximately one average worker's salary per slot. I can't believe that it takes anything like that much to manage the flow of EPG data, particularly for the BBC which is very well set up for metadata, since they feed Freeview, Freesat and cable services in addition to Sky.
The regionalization component is something like £2-3m - I couldn't figure out exactly what rules Sky were applying.
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Steve P: Let me just go though those points
"Clearly BBC has an interest in getting its broadcasts offered via satellite, and should be prepared to pay a proper price for the service of broadcasting them. "
Yes, the BBC does, that is why it has a contract with SES Astra, who own the satellites to provide them with the capacity.
SES Astra is a Luxembourgian company and has nothing at all to do with Sky.
"But if that can be done WITHOUT automatically making them available to Sky subscribers I can see no reason why BBC should pay anything to Sky. Rather Sky should be paying BBC a great deal to be allowed to include BBC channels in its service. "
Yes, the BBC's services can be watched as they are free to air. Any MPEG2/DVB-S (or MPEG4/DVB-S2) receiver connected to a dish pointing at Astra 2D can receive them - that is a Sky box with or without a subscription, a Freesat box or a "generic" receiver.
"I simply do not understand the EPG issue. Does Sky have a satellite EPG monopoly? We have one TV on Freesat (NOT from Sky) and it certainly has an EPG. Where from? "
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Steve P: ...contined
Yes, Sky have a monopoly in so much as a "monopoly" does not mean "100% of the market", just that the market is dominated by a single supplier.
The Freesat EPG is provided by Freesat (backed by the BBC) and costs a few thousand pounds to run. The Sky EPG is "claimed" to cost an fortune to run, but this money goes a) to Sky's profits and to b) the encruption company which happens to be another part of NewsCorp (NDS Datacom).
"I would certainly think that including BBC in an EPG was a very small thing compared to the benefit to Sky, who would certainly lose huge numbers of subscribers if they did not include BBC channels in their offer."
I would think a substantial number of viewers would stop subscribing to Sky if the PSBs had their channels erased from the Sky Guide.
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