'No Knee-Jerk Reactions', BSkyB Begs UK Agencies

21 March 2007

ISLEWORTH, UK: News Corporation's UK satellite broadcasting monopoly BSkyB is better known for its hard-headed business practices than patience and forbearance - qualities Sky now hopes to trawl among Britain's media-buyers.

An appeal for commercial clemency, presumably greenlighted by ceo James Murdoch (pictured), follows Sky's withdrawal of Sky One and Sky News from the Virgin Media platform after a highly-publicized spat with the cable company. As a result, those channels are now conspicuous by their absence from 3.3 million UK homes.

Advertisers and their media-buying shops are distinctly under-whelmed by this development, aghast at seeing millions of ad receptive eyeballs disappearing into a communications Black Hole.

As a result, Sky Media's managing director Nick Milligan and his deputy Paul Curtis have mounted a charm offensive in a bid to persuade frustrated agencies and clients not to pull their business or seek immediate rebates from the two channels.

Milligan and Curtis are reportedly appealing to agencies to hold fire until June to see whether the issue is resolved. Or whether Sky succeeds in regaining from Virgin a meaningful proportion of those lost viewers.

According to an unnamed media director: "They have lobbied for us not to pull out or renegotiate our deals, they don't want any knee jerk reactions . . . They are effectively asking for our customers to pay for them restricting content in this country."

Agencies, however, are inclined to reserve their sympathy for more deserving causes.

Starcom UK's trading director Chris Locke almost certainly speaks for many of his colleagues: "Sky has taken a strategic business decision to land grab Virgin Media's customers and that has resulted in a loss of audience, which is unacceptable to us on behalf of our clients."

In addition to airtime contracts, around £1 million ($1.95m; €1.46m) in sponsorship deals are currently on the block - among them 118 118's sponsorship of Lost, Nissan's sponsorship of 24 and Domino's Pizza's backing for The Simpsons.

Since the pullout, Sky One has lost nearly 30% of its share of advertising impacts; Sky News is down by 18%; Sky Travel by 30% and Sky Two by 13%.

BSkyB is urgently mulling a crop of carrots to placate media agencies and advertisers, and bolster viewing figures. Among its retention stratagems are live soccer matches and quality film premieres.

Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff