Family values 

28 August 2009

James Murdoch hits out at BBC and regulators at Edinburgh TV festival

James Murdoch attacks BBC and regulators in annual MacTaggart lecture speech shocker – who would have thought otherwise? Indeed it would have been a real surprise if both the BBC and regulators weren’t even given a passing mention given the past form of the Murdoch clan for attacking such things.

Indeed his father Rupert delivered a different yet similarly robust MacTaggart speech twenty years ago when Sky was trying to create a market for subscription television in the UK from scratch with a product that was in real danger of failing at the time.

You would have thought by now that BSkyB wouldn’t be unduly bothered by the competition – least of all a non-commercial broadcaster such as the BBC since they don’t compete with the commercial sector for advertising revenue – but there are factors both old and new that still concern BSkyB at this point.

Problem is, James Murdoch (and presumably his father as well) can see the future, and that future is very likely to signal a profound shift against the one source subscription model for content that BSkyB has built up over the last twenty years. Such a ‘guaranteed’ income is no longer assured like it appeared to be the case back in 1989.

Also the BBC’s website providing free UK news and information may help to undermine the current plans of News Corporation websites to charge for content, because they were hoping that setting an example in this regard would encourage/persuade their commercial rivals to do the same.

BSkyB also doesn’t like the BBC because the licence fee represents a small but (to BSkyB) relevant reduction in theoretical expenditure that could be spent on a Sky subscription. Indeed it makes you wonder why James Murdoch isn’t campaigning for a reduction in council tax or utility bills at the same time.

Murdoch ought to remember that the internet is still a level playing field in most respects, and if the BBC were to vanish from the landscape then there would be other free news sources available that would expand to fill the void; the music industry has discovered this fact of life the long and hard way.

Of course if James Murdoch and other BSkyB personnel continue to publicly attack the BBC on a regular basis, theoretically the BBC could at some point threaten to withdraw its channels from the Sky platform – the BBC has to pay BSkyB for the inclusion of their channels – but the chances of that happening are almost zero at present.

Which is a pity, because someone somewhere ought to remind Murdoch who provides real content on a regular basis that is regularly appreciated by a wide cross section of the UK population, both on-screen and online, for which you don’t have to pay a king’s ransom for it.

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