Advanced Television

Sky football on Freeview?

March 23, 2010

From Colin Mann in London

Newspaper reports have suggested that BSkyB may be allowed to put premium content such as football on Freeview when broadcasting regulator Ofcom releases its pay-television market review, but the satellite operator's chief operating officer has described such a move as a “sop” to the main thrust of the review, which is expected to order it to sell premium content, especially Premier League football, to rivals at wholesale prices set by the regulator.

Putting Sky premium programming on Freeview would effectively resurrect Picnic, a service announced by Sky in 2006, but shelved after Ofcom included assessment of its impact in the market inquiry. Picnic planned to sell a basic bundle of channels, including Sky Sports 1, with broadband and home phone subscriptions through a new generation of Freeview set-top boxes.

Mike Darcey, the chief operating officer of BSkyB, told the Financial Times he did not dismiss the idea of reviving Picnic, but he added that Ofcom's “sop” would not prevent BSkyB taking legal action against the decisions in the review. “The world has moved on since 2006 and I think [Ofcom] should probably just accept that we will be appealing, and that throwing us a Picnic-shaped bone isn't going to buy us off, if that is indeed the plan,” he said.

It is anticipated that Ofcom will order BSkyB to sell premium sport and film content at wholesale prices 20 to 35 per cent below current levels to rivals such as BT Vision, Virgin Media and Top-Up TV. The price level would be set by Ofcom.

Darcey said that a lot had changed since BSkyB first proposed Picnic to the regulator. “Ofcom desperately wants to believe that this is something we might see as a sop. They have talked themselves into thinking that and I have to say I think that is a bit naïve.”

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