BBC executive confused over payments to BSkyB
October 19th, 2011 - 12:58 UTC
by Andy Sennitt.

John Tate, Director of Policy & Strategy at the BBC, appears to misunderstand the nature of the business relationship between the BBC and British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). In a blog post, Mr Tate writes: “It is worth noting however that there remains one area outside the BBC’s control that could deliver us substantial additional annual savings. This is the area of ‘retransmission fees’….if we did not have to pay Sky £10m a year we would save £50m over the remainder of the licence fee period. And that is £50m that could go back into programme making - it would for example cover all the costs that we are currently planning to take out of local radio and BBC Four combined.”

Mr Tate says “The BBC currently pays Sky a fee so that it can be broadcast on their platform.” As several people point out in comments beneath the post, the payment to BSkyB has nothing to do with ”retransmission fees” as such, but is for the inclusion and management of the BBC’s schedules within its Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). The transmission arrangements are made direct with the satellite operators (SES and Eutelsat).

It would be perfectly possible, though not user-friendly, for the BBC to continue to use the same satellites and not pay a penny to Sky. The BBC’s channels could be selected manually as ‘other channels’ on a Sky Digibox, but of course programme information would no longer be available on the Sky platform. Another option would be to do as ITV does, and no longer offer the complete range of regional variations on separate EPG channels. Again, additional regional services could be tuned in manually as required. So it’s not true that this is “one area outside the BBC’s control” as Mr Tate claims.

There are low-cost alternatives to the Sky EPG, such as Digiguide, which actually contain more information. For example, the schedules of the radio stations can be consulted in advance, whereas the Sky EPG does not contain programme listings for radio, although these still have to be submitted to Sky. I used to compile the listings for RNW when we were on the Sky platform.

The blog posting has sparked an article on The Guardian website by Rob Webster. BSkyB’s group commercial director, in which he asks “Why should Sky give the BBC a free ride?”