BSkyB calls out ITV on PSB retrans plans
Joseph O'Halloran
| 12 November 2014
BSkyB has thrown down the gauntlet to the UK's leading commercial TV operator ITV over the latter's demand for pay-TV firms to start paying retransmission fees to public service broadcasters (PSBs) such as itself.

Retrans rows are now a regrettable staple of US broadcasting, and in September 2014 ITV CEO Adam Crozier called for the replication of such a model in the UK, effectively urging regulator Ofcom to compel major pay-TV platforms to pay UK public service broadcasters fairly for the transmission of their channels.

The proposition has attracted criticism from both from within the TV industry and the analyst community. In a research note written in October, Toby Syfret of leading media research firm Enders Analysis, said that it was unlikely that the next UK Government — due to be elected in May 2015 — will intervene to impose a charge on TV platforms for PSB content. He said that a de-regulatory route would be unattractive to the commercial PSBs as that process would also need to consider other privileges gifted to PSBs, such as EPG prominence.

MCWYet wading into the row, BSkyB group director of corporate affairs Graham McWilliam has publicly challenged ITV on the subject, demanding that as it releases its next financial results, it should reveal exactly how any retrans plans would work.

In a blog note McWilliam said: "More than two months have passed since ITV launched its lobbying effort with a report highlighting the impact of the system of fees that exists in the US market. Despite its enthusiasm for the US comparison, we have heard nothing at all from ITV on the practical details of how such a scheme would be implemented in the UK. For example, we still don't know whether ITV, like Channel 4, is in favour of additional regulation through the introduction of a fee set by Ofcom."

McWilliam insisted that there were major questions that the broadcaster had to answer on the issue: did ITV favour increased regulation or de-regulation; would ITV remove its main channel from a major platform; would ITV re-invest 100% of any fees in public service programmes, over and above existing investment plans?

The Sky executive described ITV's position on the latter as "a source of real confusion" and added: "genuine de-regulation would mean removing specific obligations on both PSBs and platforms so that an unfettered commercial negotiation can take place. For example, this would include removing the rules requiring Sky to carry PSB channels on its platform and to provide them with the top slots on our EPG. At present, we receive nothing in return for giving up these commercially valuable slots, which deliver audiences and advertising revenue to ITV. The experience of the US market highlights a very clear risk that arises when broadcasters and platforms negotiate over fees ... The UK's public service system is very different to the US and comes with expectations of universal availability. It would be interesting to know whether ITV envisages that it could remove its main channel from a major TV platform. "