BSkyB is complaining that millions of its customers are being unfairly excluded ‘from watching BBCshows on demand because of “unnecessarily restrictive” syndication rules’. Seemingly unaware of any hypocrisy on their part BSkyB claims that the BBC Trust is failing to act ‘in the public interest’ by ‘not offering broadcasters the option of taking content on a simpler programme-by-programme basis’.
Well, that’s rich coming from a broadcaster that has locked down all HBO content to exclude all but its own subscribers.
Sky Atlantic was launched on 1 February to much fanfare and with an exclusive screening of HBO’s long awaited and eagerly anticipated drama Boardwalk Empire. Treme was the next to premiere exclusively to Murdoch’s subscribers, along with re-runs of HBO’s back-catalogue including Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and Big Love. As if to add insult to injury, season 5 of Mad Men, hitherto shown on BBC4, is slated to return exclusively to Sky Atlantic in the Autumn.
The channel’s strapline maybe ‘Let the Stories Begin’ but the sub-heading should read ‘But only if you’re prepared to stump up at least £30 a month, leave your current provider, enter into an extended handover period which includes changing phone lines, internet package and hard drive as well as fitting an unsightly satellite dish.’
Well that’s business I guess and this is not the first time that Sky has discriminated against non-subscribers. March 2007 and Virgin subscribers lost basic Sky channels. The main gripe then was that Sky not only pulled the plug in the middle of a transmission but that shows like Nip/Tuck, 24, Lostand The Simpsons were lost mid-series. The additional slap in the face being that Virgin customers were taunted by a poster campaign urging them to switch to Sky for £15 a month in order to ‘Get Jack Back’.
I suppose that all is fair in the fight for the lucrative communications market, particularly in the area of cable and satellite provision, but it reminds me of the early days of television scheduling when, long before video, and with the best shows scheduled against each other, the battle for ratings inevitably meant that the very people that TV was purportedly for – the audience – lost out.
Sky Atlantic may have an exclusive deal to exclusively air the cream of the US TV crop in Britain but does that mean subscribers will be leaving Virgin in their droves? Maybe, but I don’t think that I will be alone in refusing to be held to ransom by Rupert Murdoch’s business practices.
After all this is not the first time that the Murdoch empire has attempted to corner a profitable market; his attempt to exclusively screen British soccer coverage was famously scuppered in 2003 and Sky 1 crept back onto Virgin screens in November 2008. It won’t be long until the same happens with Sky Atlantic. And until then I will wait. After all, if there is one thing that British fans of US TV have had to learn, that is patience. The Wire took so long to come to these shores that most fans had already watched it illegally or on DVD before it appeared on the BBC. We have already waited nearly a year for Boardwalk Empire and many more years for Big Love, which never made it past season two on these shores. With most of HBO’s shows being available in DVD box sets and younger TV viewers preferring to stream or download their favourite TV shows, I predict that Sky Atlantic’s price will soon drop.
And then the stories can truly begin.