Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 399)

WEDNESDAY 16 NOVEMBER 2005

Mr Paul Vaughan, Mr Allan Munro and Mr David Moffett

  Q380  Lord King of Bridgwater: It does not help in the bidding necessarily. There is not a sort of graph of past background pricing evidence, or tender offers of one sort or another which might have been bid in other areas, which might give you a pretty good guide to what the market price is.

  Mr Moffett: I think we are getting there. We are only a very fledgling sport in terms of professional rugby, at 10 years. I think we are starting to develop that degree of evidence. It is not only in this country, it is also in the southern hemisphere, where they are into their second contract with New Zealand. I was part of the negotiating of the first contract. I think we can now start to value it. Also, the rugby world cups have been around for some time. I think the evidence, for what it is worth, is definitely improving.

  Q381  Lord King of Bridgwater: You think the BBC perhaps ought to get better informed on some of this. You have said "more aggressive".

  Mr Moffett: If they want something, I think they are going to have to go out and get it, whether that is rugby, rowing or whatever it is.

  Q382  Lord King of Bridgwater: Do you own the Millennium Stadium?

  Mr Moffett: Yes, we do.

  Q383  Lord King of Bridgwater: Do you handle the negotiations for other sports that take place in the Millennium Stadium?

  Mr Moffett: No, we do not. We normally just hire it out as a venue. We do at times put on our own events. We have tried, with putting on a soccer match between an Italian and a Spanish team—where we own the event and then we will sell on the television rights—but when the FA comes to town, they just hire the stadium off us.

  Q384  Lord King of Bridgwater: Have you noticed any great difference in the negotiation on football rights as opposed to the rugby rights?

  Mr Moffett: In terms of how they deal with us?

  Q385  Lord King of Bridgwater: Yes, the BBC approach.

  Mr Moffett: No, because I do not get involved in that. That is a matter for the football associations to sort out.

  Q386  Chairman: What about England, do you want to come in on that?

  Mr Vaughan: I would just like to make the point that the BBC have a fantastic heritage in sport—for many, many years, on both radio and television. The position we are in collectively here is that we are never going to beat football. Football will always be the top premier league game for many years to come. We have to make sure that we are top of the second rung, if you like. In terms of what the BBC is bidding for, they cannot be all things to all men, in my view. They cannot do everything. They have to be focused on what they do because they only have so much air time and resource financially in order to spend. If they are going to cover synchronised swimming through to whatever it might be, that is one approach, the very broad-brush approach, but actually it means everybody gets less. If it is to promote the bigger, secondary sports effectively, then obviously they need to be focused in terms of their resources and make sure they have adequate resources in order to buy the rights. They do live in a competitive world. They cannot be just taken as the national broadcaster and safe, I think. They have to operate in a commercial world, I am afraid.

  Q387  Lord King of Bridgwater: You are prepared to accommodate them on scheduling, and we now have a two o'clock match and a four o'clock match. In other words, the unions are prepared, within reason, to move to broadcasting schedules.

  Mr Vaughan: Certainly within the Six Nations that is very much the case, because they have 15 matches, three on every weekend for five weekends. They schedule it so that they can show all the rights they have bought quite sensibly. When it comes to the autumn games, because we are not on BBC and Wales and Scotland certainly are, we have a 2.30 kick-off every Saturday for three weeks—which our audience loves, because if you are travelling down from Yorkshire or Northumberland to Twickenham you can get there and back in a day, as you can from Cornwall.

  Q388  Chairman: Are you saying the BBC should specialise more in terms of what it bids for?

  Mr Vaughan: I am trying to say that it needs to be more focused in terms of what it wants, which really emphasises David's point. It needs to focus resources behind what it needs to get in order to drive its audiences—which we can deliver—rather than spread its audiences very, very thinly, which I think often used to be the case.

  Q389  Chairman: Which, I suppose, is also the temptation if you are trying to deliver back to every licence fee payer in the country.

  Mr Vaughan: Yes.

  Q390  Lord Maxton: It is also a public service broadcast, if you like, and they have a responsibility to encourage all sports, not just two or three sports.

  Mr Moffett: But they need to get value for money out of everything they do essentially, do they not? That is a test that everybody working in public life has to meet. I think they have to make those judgments internally and against their own charter or however they are going to be managed. It is obviously quite a difficult task, but from a rugby perspective we think we do deliver value for money for public broadcasting.

  Q391  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I think I have picked up a fairly good impression that none of you is entirely satisfied with the amount of coverage you get on the BBC—probably the Welsh side is happier than the others. Could I pick up on one of the points you have made. Presumably, in order to get value for money the BBC will need to be flexible. It might be they will see something coming onto the horizon that they will want to spend a bit more money on, with some of the games maybe fading into the background, so the flexibility we are talking about must go both ways. Against that background, one or two people mentioned especially a sports channel. I would be interested to hear of your views on this. Would that make the BBC rather more of a potential purchaser of each of your particular rights, or would there be down sides there?

  Mr Vaughan: I think that, yes, it would. It would certainly have the air time to be able to give a broader coverage of many sports. I would just put in the rider that they would need to be able to have sufficient funds in order to be able to buy the rights, and also to make sure, if it is a specialised sports channel, that it is going to be a terrestrial channel or a digital platform channel.

  Mr Munro: I am not quite so sure. Prior to getting involved in rugby, I know from my own household and that of both sets of parents/parents-in-law that they would watch a rugby international on a Saturday afternoon, whereas if there was a dedicated sports channel I am not sure they would. I think that is quite possibly a factor and possibly not dissimilar to the advantage that the BBC has over Sky with a dedicated sports channel. I think a lot of people, certainly in Scotland, as far as I am aware, watch a rugby international because they think it is great and it is good entertainment, whereas if it was a dedicated sports channel, with a film on the other side, I am not sure they would.

  Q392  Chairman: So you might lost an audience.

  Mr Munro: I think you could well lose an audience.

  Q393  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: What about the effect it might have on the other side of what you are trying to achieve; that is, getting more people involved and the young interested.

  Mr Munro: I think it goes exactly the same way.

  Mr Moffett: As long as it is on terrestrial and it is accessible by everybody who pays for their television licence, I do not see that it is going to have a negative effect. In terms of strategy, I think the BBC needs to work out what it wants to do, and what it wants to be obviously is part of that. But the world is changing and it is changing at a very rapid pace and they have to keep up with what is happening around them. Otherwise, the BBC will get left behind and we will find that we will be left behind with them if we are partnering with them. Obviously it is a matter for the BBC as to whether they feel a sports channel is warranted, but I would think, from the point of view of a dedicated sports' viewer, that if there is the money there to do it would be a good thing.

  Q394  Chairman: But you would not want it to be done if it was a second division sports channel.

  Mr Moffett: No. I do not think the BBC is about being second division in anything. That is what they should not be, because they have had such a history—forgetting about sport now—in everything that they have done. I know that is a big debate going on at the moment, but, no, they do not want to be a second division sports channel.

  Q395  Lord Maxton: In a sense, my argument on the dedicated channel would be: Show the game live on terrestrial, but then repeat it—which is what Sky do—in the evening, for those who have gone and watched the game or whatever. You have said the world is changing, and that is right. The next step in all this, of course, is probably the internet. Do you have separate rights for selling on the internet? I know the SRU is now showing some of the club games on their website? I am trying to persuade the club with which I am associated that the video they use for training purposes—because they video every game—could be shown live on their own website. There is nothing to stop them doing that. Where do you see yourself in this new broadband internet world?

  Mr Vaughan: Five years ago we deliberately separated out our rights for broadband and indeed mobile telephony as well. What we are now finding is that the conversion world is giving us a major problem because inevitably all broadcasters will want to separate their broadcast on all platforms that they have got, so the BBC now want to broadcast in broadband as well as terrestrial television, which then cuts across whatever else we are doing. What we have done is manage to persuade them to have a geo-block of the broadband area in the UK in order for us to be able to sell on externally into the market world wide. We do that reasonably successfully. I think it will give us problems further down the road as well. Broadband soon will be another potential opportunity for us to sell our sport instead of television perhaps if you take a long-term view.

  Q396  Lord Maxton: So when the BBC do a Six Nations game or Scotland and Wales do their autumn internationals, do you have access to the videos, if you like, to use yourself or do they totally own the rights? The Lawn Tennis Association with Wimbledon keeps the rights for the programmes that the BBC do. Is that true in rugby?

  Mr Vaughan: The BBC now tend to want to include it in the deal on the basis of take it or leave it. It is the whole deal or nothing, which I think is a little unfair, whereas what we are trying to sell is television rights and not the broadband rights. What we have done now is to have some hold-back period in order for us to be able to sell on with a 24-hour hold-back period for other broadband opportunities within the UK, but it obviously does not have the same impact as live.

  Q397  Lord Peston: Could I take us on to listed events. One of the things until I was on this Committee doing this inquiry I had never thought of was the conceptual basis of what a listed event is and why certain events are listed events. Looking at what they are now, I cannot make head or tail or find any logic to why Wimbledon Tennis Finals are a listed event. I was just alive the last time an Englishman was a serious contender to win. So one concept one might have is if one of the major nations—and this is a national thing—you could see why it would be a listed event but most of them I cannot make head nor tail of. Do you have a view of what ought to be a listed event, apart from the other question of how we then get the balance between what must be free to air and what is charged for? I think one of you mentioned Six Nations but unless I do not understand what is what the Six Nations is not a listed event and yet each of your countries often does quite well in the Six Nations. You are part of what is really going on so why is that not a listed event?

  Mr Vaughan: Thankfully it is probably better that we do not determine what is listed and what is not.

  Q398  Lord Peston: No, but you are interested from your side as to what you can sell.

  Mr Vaughan: Yes, from our point of view, certainly from an English point of view we needed the ability to be able to go to the market and try and do the best deal, and the best deal from our point of view is that broad mix of channels that we do have and we have managed to achieve, which is we have a combination of Sky and BBC and the World Cup with ITV as a sport, which is fantastic. From an English point of view it works very well. We would like to see more of it, over longer periods of time, throughout the whole season on terrestrial television, but it is difficult, as I said before, because the rugby specials have now really disappeared apart from eight times a year.

  Q399  Lord King of Bridgwater: Can I clear up one point. When you talk about the Six Nations and negotiating whether that appears or not, when you actually negotiate the Six Nations, does each nation negotiate separately?

  Mr Vaughan: It is collective; it used to be individually.


 
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