Flextech plc is a cable and satellite programme
operation which currently has interests in 16 Channels which are
distributed to over 25 million viewers in the UK and other Western
European countries. Its portfolio is a mixture of wholly owned
and managed channels, plus a series of strategic investments which
include stakes in programming and content providers. Flextech
has also formed a joint venture with BBC Worldwide to launch up
to eight subscription channels in the UK.
Flextech does not hold any interests in The
Parliamentary Channel. The Company manages and operates the service
on behalf of the consortium of British Cable companies who own
and fund the Channel.
Flextech first became involved in the service
in 1991 when (as United Artists Programming) it initiated a trial
project to provide gavel to gavel coverage of "Yesterday
in the Commons" which broadcast on a number of cable networks.
In 1992, following the success of this trial project, a consortium
of Cable Operators came together and created "The Parliamentary
Channel" based on the C-SPAN model in America. Flextech Television
(then United Artists Progamming) were selected to manage and operate
the Channel on the industry's behalf and for various technical
reasons still holds the PARBUL licence on behalf of the Channel
Under the direction of The Parliamentary Channel's
Board of Directors, Flextech has expanded the service over the
past six years to provide 115 hours of informative political programming
each week Parliament is in session, as well as a Teletext service
and Website dedicated to providing information on the work of
Parliament. The Parliamentary Channel is now self funding.
Memorandum submitted by NTL
NTL is one of the UK's leading telecommunications
and entertainment companies. NTL began operations in the UK over
five years ago and is now a major integrated communications company.
Our cable division, operating as CableTel, offers
residential telephone, television and internet services to over
2.1 million homes under franchise with over 400,000 current subscribers.
The further consolidation of the cable industry, through NTL's
purchase of Diamond Cable Communications plc, Comcast UK and the
UK cable interests of Vision networks (ComTel Ltd and Telecential
Communications) means that the vast majority of franchises are
now held by three roughly equal players, NTL, Telewest and CWC.
These acquisitions give NTL access to 5.2 million
franchise homes with 850,000 residential telephone customers,
700,000 cable television customers and 85,000 business telephone
lines. NTL's innovative marketing strategy has led to significant
penetration customer interest in our services. By the end of 1998
NTL will be the UK's largest cable company when measured by number
of residential customers.
In 1992 the major UK cable operators came together
to form The Parliamentary Channel (TPC). NTL supported this development,
demonstrating our commitment through investing and participating
in TPC's expansion. Since 1992 the industry has put in more than
£4 million of loan funding to ensure the development of TPC.
While NTL is certainly a commercial, indeed
highly entrepreneurial company, our support for TPC was based
less on potential future commercial or profitable opportunities
than on our belief that access to full coverage of the Parliamentary
process is of benefit and interest to our customers. On this basis,
it makes good business sense to fund the development of the channel.
TPC is run as a non-profit venture, without any public money or
TPC was, and is, modelled on the two phenomenally
successful C-SPAN channels created by the major US cable operators.
These operators aggressively and publicly supported and funded
the development of the channel. Like C-SPAN, TPC's role is to
provide full coverage of the legislature at work. In the UK this
means live gavel-to-gavel coverage of Commons business, full recorded
coverage of the House of Lords (when time permits) and selected
NTL continues to push for an enhanced and further
developed TPC. Recently, NTL proposed to the board of TPC that
we should take over the ownership and management of TPC for the
indefinite future. This proposal includes a commitment to fund,
for at least the next two years, TPC's entire operating budgetsome
£2\6 million per year. This would allow, at the very least,
a maintenance of the current service level. In fact we would expect
to offer additional features and services. Over time we would
look to offer TPC to a far greater proportion of the population
through our involvement in digital terrestrial, digital cable
and digital radio broadcasting. In fact, the digital era should
bring great advances in Parliamentary coverage.
The BBC has come forward with its own proposals
for a Parliamentary channel funded through the licence fee. NTL
welcomes the BBC's involvement, however we believe there is little
merit in duplicating our coverage of Parliament. While the BBC
is, of course, a world renowned broadcaster, we believe the UK
cable industry, and in particular NTL, has a lot to offer. Only
cable is in a position to:
develop truly regionalised coverage
of the democratic process through our local franchise network.
This will be particularly significant once the Scottish Parliament
and Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland are in place;
offer, through own Internet Service
Provider, full coverage of Parliamentary proceedings over the
create true Parliamentary interactivity
through our two day broadband interactive digital cable networks.
NTL has no interest in reneging on or abandoning
its commitment to the future funding and development of TPC. Our
commitment to being part of the continuing development of TPC
has never been stronger.
We note that this hearing is part of a wider
inquiry into the "Development of Parliamentary Broadcasting"NTL would be keen to participate. In particular, the Committee may be interested to hear how our expertise in the field of digital
broadcasting may be used to enhance coverage of Parliament.