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Double-edged sword

Kevin Bakhurst Kevin Bakhurst | 12:35 UK time, Friday, 9 February 2007

It emerged late yesterday that from the Spring, if Ofcom approves, Sky News will no longer be available free to viewers on Freeview.

BBC News 24 logoThey currently get around 845,000 viewers a week on this platform out of their weekly total of 4 million. For us at the BBC, I think this is a double-edged sword.

Sky have already rather given up on viewing figures as BBC News 24 has moved substantially ahead of them (6 million a week versus 4 million). Whereas, a few years ago audience size was their preferred measure of success, it has now been quietly dropped. The move on Freeview will almost certainly be another big blow to their audience size.

I can fully understand why Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB have taken this decision on commercial grounds alone: you can make money out of movies and sport but not easily from news. However, I do think it's a real shame for TV News coverage in the UK.

We are very fortunate to have two thriving 24-hour TV News channels and I firmly believe competition is a good thing for the audience. Sky's decision will be a bad thing for news audiences, particularly those who can't afford subscription services and choose Freeview for that reason. I would just say that for us at BBC News 24, we put immense value on our audiences and their views - and will continue to do so whatever platform they watch us on.


  • 1.
  • At 05:31 PM on 09 Feb 2007,
  • Roddy Jenkins wrote:

Interesting to see that Murdoch and BSkyB are planning to pull Sky News (and Sky Sports News) from the Freeview platform this Spring. Whilst I don't see News 24's recent re-launch as a threat to Sky News's overall viewing figures, it does pose several questions:

1) Is BSkyB, in removing its news services from Freeview, planning instead to concentrate whole-heartedly on its HD services and therefore compete directly against the Freeview (and potentially Top Up TV) DTT platform?

2) Will viewing figures for News 24 suffer as a result of little or no direct competition on one digital platform?

3) Can we expect to see viewers lured (albeit reluctantly) to subscription-based platforms, thus causing a dip in DTT viewing figures when the analogue signal is switched off?

I too can understand the commercial and economic reasons behind Murdoch's motives.

When he launched Sky Television in the late 1980's, he originally invested heavily in Sky News, believing that this was what the British public wanted. To his cost, he soon realised that the diet of imported entertaiment shows on Sky One was proving to be more attractive to the early converts to sattelite television.

At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see how the post-analogue television landscape shapes up, whether or not Ofcom agree to BSkyB's plans.

  • 2.
  • At 05:42 PM on 09 Feb 2007,
  • David wrote:

Yes I think this is a great shame. With the departure of ITV News and now Sky News the BBC has the Freeview market to itself. I am mostly a BBC News 24 viewer so in theory this should not bother me too much but in fact I appreciate being able to switch to another service to get a different perspective or just to watch something else during sports coverage or something else I am less interested in. Diversity of news sources is a good thing!

  • 3.
  • At 06:48 PM on 09 Feb 2007,
  • PeeVeeAh wrote:

A "double-edged sword" ?

Sounds like rhetoric, OM! You don't explain with any clarity how this has a 'backhand' aspect, at all!

Mr Murdoch recognises that maintaining the on-the-spot international network is not worth the investment, surely?

The old adage of needing a worthy adversary isn't always a truth - though it can be played upon by those who might gloat over their traditional monopoly!

No surprises here!

  • 4.
  • At 07:20 PM on 09 Feb 2007,
  • anon wrote:

"I firmly believe competition is a good thing for the audience."

So then you support the abolition of the licence fee and having the BBC compete on its own merits?

Come on Kevin - when News 24 launched it undermined ANY commercial basis for UK-based 24 hour news provision.

Fox and CNN both make money producing news in the US. But in the UK, even a bargain-basement, cut-price operation like the ITV News Channel couldn't keep going because you are giving the news away.

Tell viewers how much promotion time News 24 gets on BBC1...

When News 24 is the only channel left standing, people might ask how a publicly funded organization was allowed to destroy diversity of domestic commercial provision. Still, now it's over to Ofcom...

  • 6.
  • At 09:06 PM on 09 Feb 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

So am I right in thinking that this means that less people get the chance to watch the same four or five news stories being endlessly replayed 24 hours a day?

Lucky them.

  • 7.
  • At 09:15 PM on 09 Feb 2007,
  • Nick Dalby wrote:

No loss there then.

There was a time Sky News used to seriously show you guys up, but now it's the other way round. I'm sure you'll be raising your celebratory champagne glasses when it finally shoves off freeview, which you deserve. You're not selling out your audience, or your staff. I do realise that it's not as easy for Sky to just broadcast as they dont have license fee, however they charge customers hundreds a year to get the same services as you get on freeview. So there is a parallel. Sky News into their revamp has taken a considerable tumble, and I would imagine in this era of the Slow Sky News death you won't have problems with your journalist shortages planned for this month... at least anna jones still has friends at news 24!

  • 8.
  • At 09:32 PM on 09 Feb 2007,
  • JG wrote:

So a tax funded, protected organisation has distorted the market to such an extent its competitor has had to pull out. Shame on the BBC. This is an inevitable consequence of the outdated TV-tax.

JG, SKy haven't HAD to pull out. Murdoch has decided to try selling channels to people who have opted for Freeview over his poor quality, high cost offerings.

  • 10.
  • At 12:18 AM on 10 Feb 2007,
  • tom johnson wrote:

Perhaps you might like to prefer a small proportion of the £3 billion poll tax to the hard up skynews. Let's face it, a news organisation that can afford to employ in excess of 3,500 staff in its news division, run stand alone news bulletins on BBC1 at 1pm 6pm and 10pm whilst its news (24)channel presenters go off for a cuppa clearly has more money than sense.Add to that the duplication of bulletins on four and five live, the trivia that passes for news on BBC3 and the unwatchable 'world' on BBC four it's obvious that the only real competition that the BBC leviathan has is the BBC leviathan. Give them some money, afterall you lot are in the vanguard of diversity.

  • 11.
  • At 07:35 AM on 10 Feb 2007,
  • David wrote:

@JG. I think you'll find that the market is working fine. Mr Murdoch has simply decided he can make more money for shareholders by withdrawing Sky News and replacing it with subscription channels.
The only distortion here is that thanks to the unique way it's funded the BBC can continue to deliver News 24 for freeview viewers.

I watch the FTA channels on satellite here in Belgium and I agree wholeheartedly that having several news channels is a very good thing indeed.

I find Sky to be very UK orientated and to a lesser extent that holds true for BBC News 24, France 24, CCTV. Most other news channels are 'news lite' or wallpaper channels, such as EuroNews. The channel I prefer is the Al Jazeera International - which has a perspective, but not a narrow 'national' one. I think it would be great for them to appear on Freeview. On a side issue what are their viewing figures like and how have they impacted on BBC News 24?

  • 13.
  • At 09:19 AM on 10 Feb 2007,
  • Tom wrote:

Quote; "So a tax funded, protected organisation has distorted the market to such an extent its competitor has had to pull out"

err... Surely this is a commercial broadcaster more interested in making profits than providing a universal news service which has dropped its news service because it doesn't make money. Just as the other lot (ITV) did. And wasn't it the BBC that got Freeview back on its feet in the first place after ITV's failure. Thank God for a tax-funded protected organisation.

  • 14.
  • At 09:43 AM on 10 Feb 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

It is hardly surprising that Sky news is losing Viewers to BBC news 24. It takes two clicks of the remote control to switch from Sky news to BBC news when the adverts come on and then forget to switch back. Viewers of news channels are not a receptive audience for adverts. Surely the solution is obvious!!

I certainly miss Sky News. After the Kensall Rise tornado they had coverage nearly an hour before N24, and far more video too.

Sky seem to cover breaking news a lot faster in general.

  • 16.
  • At 10:46 AM on 10 Feb 2007,
  • Philip wrote:

Kevin, In reference to JGs comment, my parents have some type of satellite dish, not a 'sky' one, and no sky digibox, so can get 'Sky News' now, and one suspects in the future. Clearly they can't get all the movie channels but they don't really want these.

I think many people, myself included, are still somewhat in the dark about the options for digital TV. The working assumption is that you either have Sky or Freeview or cable. I am not sure this represents all the available options.

Clearly it does for most of those who want 'multi-channel entertainment' including, say, Film Four, Channel5, MTV channels and all the various children's channels. But I am not convinced that they are a majority.

My folks are pensioners, living in Wales, so having access to Welsh TV, BBC and maybe the news from Sky, plus a couple of other free channels is enough-they don't want to pay extra.

Maybe this message is being lost in all the 'hype' from Sky and Virgin.

  • 17.
  • At 04:09 PM on 10 Feb 2007,
  • Alex Swanson wrote:

Hallo News 24 controller!! Nothing to do with the subject at hand, but can we PLEEEEZE have a little less soccer? Not everybody is obsessed with it, and for those who are, there are plenty other places to go. You say yourself ("you can make money out of movies and sport but not easily from news") sport and news are not the same thing.

  • 18.
  • At 07:12 PM on 10 Feb 2007,
  • Jeremy Bailey wrote:

Sky should be kick out of the Free view Consortium! How can they change the free view licence to pay-tv? Ofcom should stop this now.

"Sky have* already rather given up on viewing figures as BBC News 24 has moved substantially ahead of them (6 million a week versus 4 million)."

What does that mean? BBC has 60% of that market and Sky 40% - not a substantial difference in terms of market share. Given these figures and BBC's funding and free advertising, I'd say it was the BBC who had "given up" on viewing figures.

*shame on you in an editor's blog - companies are singular, lah!

  • 20.
  • At 05:06 PM on 11 Feb 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Oh great - so now we'll have no choice but to watch BBC 24's "balanced" view of the world. Yet another reason why the license fee should be abolished.

  • 21.
  • At 01:39 AM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • carole winter wrote:

The beeb have had the monopoly for ever funded by licence money whether you liked it or not. At least with sky what you see (literally) is what you get and you pay for it. Stop whingeing beeb about the competion you so richly deserve and which delivers so much more for the money. Your licence fee is a total rip off with millions hardly watching you but still having to fork out. It would be very interesting if you had an opt out option but you would not dare as you know what would happen

  • 22.
  • At 02:42 AM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • Raj wrote:

I think BBC should fully privatise and not seek government funding. Although, it has state connections, the company is in a desperate need for a private makeover judging by the most recent funding fiasco.

Take Time Warner and CNN, for example. It is a perfect example of how privatisation can actually work for a news channel. I don't think that there is a difference between a 'free' news service and a 24/7 channel. While they have a limited timeslot and summarize information, you provide more information and details, hence seek to be compensated. But is this exploited service enough? No.

From the figures, you do have a loyal 4 million a week viewership and this viewership may have it's own demographics. I don't see why BBC cannot practice aggressive privatisation and advertising while retaining the ethics that made it what it is today.

I am not suggesting that you start spending less on other services, such as the multi-language radios. But you may easily integrate expansion strategies and minimize expenditure on variable costs, while your core income pays for the fixed costs.

BBC has the brand equity and value, the audience and brand salience. You could easily earn that extra revenue without state intervention. What Sky lacks at the moment is that image projection that you have:

Impartiality. At least that's the public view.

  • 23.
  • At 08:26 AM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • Ian wrote:

This must be a very disappointing development for Sky News staff.

That said, from an editorial perspective, I don't think the competition between Sky News and BBC News 24 has always been a good thing. News 24 seems preoccupied with being more Sky News than Sky News.

I would prefer it if News 24 pursued a broader agenda than Sky News and put more resources into exploring issues in depth rather than being obsessed with breaking news and having correspondents reporting live purely for the sake of being live.

  • 24.
  • At 09:15 AM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • Mark E wrote:

I rarely watch Sky News or Sky Sports News (just as I rarely watch BBC News 24). Although, I found Sky Sports News very useful to catch their equivalent of "Final Score" when BBC1 pushed it back to show the Rugby on saturday.

So it will be missed a little by me but not much.

For me if I want to check the news I go to a news website as it allows me to read the stories I wish rather then sit through items that have zero interest to me.

The shame is that BBC News 24 is flat in its presentation of the facts and its format finds itself stumped for free flowing copy when faced with an a breaking situation. Take the riot in Jerusalem the other day. Sky News gave the viewers a great deal of context background, even a live phone call from one of the participants on the scene. There was also much more context. The BBC News 24 presenters could barely manage a 'you can see a stun grenade going off in the background there'. If you'd been left to BBC News 24, the viewer would have been stumped as to why what was happening altogether. The BBC gave a fuller and slightly more background in From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4. Where was the your correspondent when it was all kicking off?

  • 26.
  • At 01:30 PM on 12 Feb 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

Sky News is junk television, mostly. They are good on breaking news, as they don't seem to be too worried about double-checking facts before going to air. The breathless reporting and tabloid content is sickening. However, competition is essential to maintain quality, from this point of view it could be bad news for News 24.
If it takes a licence fee to maintain quality, then long live the licence fee.
Advertising is a nuisance, but it's acceptable if the content is really good - in my opinion BBC World is actually the best international all-news channel, head and shoulders above CNN, Fox and the rest of them.

  • 27.
  • At 01:10 AM on 14 Feb 2007,
  • jim-uk wrote:

I'll miss Sky News for the breaking news as they do a far better job of it then the BBC without the politically correct self censorship the BBC engage in. That said Sky News has been going downhill fast for a while now and the way things are going soon it will be nothing but ads, trailers and plugs for their website 24 hours a day. I hope someone steps in to take their place as only having one dedicated news channel isn't good especially one that seems to have it's own left wing agenda.

  • 28.
  • At 09:45 AM on 16 Feb 2007,
  • Martin Curry wrote:

It may not be the case that Ofcom consent to changes in the licence for National Grid Wireless, (the Mux operator for Mux C) or a change in the channels provided by Sky (which were only allowed as FTA channels).

Certainly, I'd expect to see some consultation if applications to change are received by Ofcom, which apparently, to date, have not been.

It is interesting to note that NGW recently advertised a FTA only 4.00am to slot with a proposed start date of 1st Feb, hopefully this wasn't just an artificial exercise to establish little demand for FTA broadcasting space by NGW, before broadcasting services are sold off by them, (to Sky?)

Last year, both the BBC and five did not support the removal of FTA channels to allow Pay channels on Mux B, C or D,when consulted by Ofcom and Channel Four was opposed to any change to allow Pay TV on them, I'd hope that these broadcasters would at least reiterate their opposition to removal of FTA channels, and support their replacement with other channels, (on the same terms and conditions), such as CNNI, Euronews, extended broadcasting hours for Disney's abc1, or the soon to be launched RTE:International (which could replace Sky three and help Ofcom to carry out its duties under the Communications Act 2003 regarding quality, plurality, etc.)

I suppose as a last resort, given the changes to the Charter, BBC World, BBC Entertainment/Prime and BBC Knowledge could replace the Sky channels, adverts included!

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