Thompson: Sky should pay retrans fees

By Julian Clover
Published: August 28, 2010 09.22 Europe/London

BBC director-general Mark Thompson has said UK broadcasters should be paid to be present on the Sky Digital platform. Delivering the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Thompson reversed an argument made by Rupert Murdoch that resulted in the Fox Television network receiving retransmission fees from US cable.

“Fox originally asked Time Warner for $1 a month per subscriber in exchange for the right to re-transmit the Fox network,” said Thompson. “At that level, Sky would be paying £75m a year to get the equivalent of Fox. Given the rather greater popularity of Channel 4, ITV and Channel Five in this market, Sky could perhaps afford to be even a little bit more generous!”

Thompson said he was not arguing that the BBC should receive a payment as it was funded by a universal licence fee and should be available on all platforms at no charge to either party. Instead retrans fees should be introduced for the commercial public broadcasters that invest in UK production.

Under BSkyB’s published ratecard, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five each pay £21,000 per annum for the listing of each of their channels in the Sky EPG and a further £6,000 for each regional variation. There are currently 18 regional variations to BBC One.

While praising its contribution to news and the arts, Thompson criticised the lack of investment by Sky in original drama. “It’s great that they’re announcing a few more drama commissions. But it’s time that Sky pulled its weight by investing much, much more in British talent and British content.”

Thompson said that estimates put Sky’s non-news, non-drama budget at an annual £100 million, slightly ahead of Channel Five, even though its turnover was 15 times greater.