ITV’s Prebble Slams BSkyB, Hits Back at Digital Critics

23 October 2001

Writing in Monday’s The Guardian newspaper, ITV Network chief executive Stuart Prebble slammed Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB for its alleged “long term abuses” and demanded that these be investigated by the Office of Fair Trading.

Prebble, whose responsibility also extends to the troubled ITV Digital platform, welcomed the government’s recently published Digital Action Plan. This he hailed as “the first comprehensive road map which could underpin this country's lead in digital broadcasting and deliver a fully digital UK in the government's proposed time frame.”

Prebble believes the plan recognises the need for a level playing field between Britain's three competing TV platforms: satellite, cable and digital terrestrial. Warming to his theme, he demanded that the OFT redress Sky’s “monopoly ownership of movies and dominant ownership of key sports” and take action to prevent the satellite broadcaster’s alleged attempt to drive all its rivals out of business.

ITV’s head honcho also argued that Sky should offer ITV’s Sports Channel to its subscribers on terms similar to those that Sky requires when providing premium sports channels to other broadcasters.

Although these imbalances and disadvantages had affected ITV Digital since its launch [originally as ONdigital] three years ago, Prebble claimed the platform had been a “huge success” with the public. Despite limitation of its coverage to just half the UK, ITV Digital had notched its millionth customer “faster than Sky, faster than NTL, faster than Telewest, faster even than Orange or Vodafone”. In terms of retail sales, he asserted, ITV is outselling Sky by a factor of two to one.

Referring to persistent rumours that ITV is to pull the plug on digital, Prebble was scathing.

“We even learn that this has led some fevered minds to imagine life without ITV Digital. There is wild talk of the BBC inhabiting digital terrestrial technology with free to air channels, while Sky resumes its old monopoly in pay TV [WAMN: 22-Oct-01]. This is dangerous stuff, especially for the BBC.”

Sky, he warned, would prove to be a high-risk bedfellow for a public service broadcaster such as the BBC which, as digital satellite broadcasting gained an increasing stranglehold on the UK television market, would come to rely on Sky for its programme distribution..

“The BBC should carefully read Rupert Murdoch’s view of the role of public service broadcasting before cuddling up too close,” Prebble counselled.

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