Advanced Television

Virgin’s Berkett attacks BBC Trust

January 23, 2012

Virgin Media’s chief executive Neil Berkett has called on the Government to rip up the rules on licensing film and television content and disband the BBC Trust.

Berkett warned that content providers will fall behind the pace of change in the way people are watching films and television unless the forthcoming Communications Bill is used for a wholesale shake up. He said television industry regulation needs a major shake-up.

Berkett told The Sunday Telegraph the BBC Trust should be scrapped and Ofcom should be handed extra powers over content provision, so that it can step in and preempt problems instead of handing out judgments once problems have already occurred.

He said: “we need to ensure the Communications Bill addresses a common approach to all the ingredients in a converged world, whether that means content or platform. If we don’t, it will stifle innovation and harm the consumer.”

“There is a storm brewing,” he said. “We see it in pockets now, with the pub landlady case [in which a pub landlady won the right to use a decoder to watch premiership football games broadcast from Greece], and lots of other little examples now where we can say, ‘Hang on, that’s not the intention of the original legislation’. If you buy a car, you can drive that car anywhere, but if you buy content you can only watch it on specific players.”

Within a year, Virgin Media customers will be able to access its TiVO on-demand service from mobiles and tablets, but Berkett said it will not have the rights to distribute Sky content on anything other than a traditional television without additional fees.

The company has also run into problems over the BBC iPlayer. It was the first service to offer it over televisions, but nearly lost out when the BBC tried to move it to a different technical platform to offer the on-demand service more widely. The issue has been resolved, but Berkett says the dispute highlighted major problems with the regulatory framework for content. “What’s the BBC? A content producer or distributor? Maybe it’s both – but why is it that the BBC gets regulated by the BBC Trust and everyone else gets regulated by Ofcom? It’s ridiculous,” he said.

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