Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1100 - 1119)

TUESDAY 6 DECEMBER 2005

Mr Mike Darcey, Mr Vic Wakeling and Mr Martin Le Jeune

  Q1100  Lord Maxton: What were your viewing figures?

  Mr Wakeling: Not very good!

  Q1101  Lord Peston: Mr Darcey has constantly reminded us, quite rightly, that you are a commercial operation. Are you covering these sports that we are currently talking about because they are commercially viable or because it is part of a broader package and a broader image that you want to create as to what you are doing? I am not saying you are wrong to do it, but it is not obvious to me what the commercial advantage is.

  Mr Wakeling: I think the answer is the latter in that we think there are small pockets of people out there, whether it be bridge or whatever, who might subscribe to Sky Sports if we give that broader appeal. They will find something on our channel once a day or once a week that will interest them. If you look at the terms of hours that we do on football, golf, cricket, tennis, Rugby League, Rugby Union, they are our main sports in terms of hours. Let me give you two examples in equestrian sport, the Horse of the Year Show and Hickstead. Years ago they were on the BBC and were a major event on the BBC. Now, for whatever reason, I do not know, the BBC has dropped them. We have gone in in the past 12 months and done three-year contracts to cover both. The audiences were 60,000 to 80,000 over the three days of the event, not huge, but we are catering for 60,000 to 80,000 people who wanted to watch Hickstead and the Horse of the Year Show from the NEC in Birmingham.

  Q1102  Lord Holme of Cheltenham: The business model behind that would be, as a result of you doing that, X thousand horsy people would now subscribe to Sky and be able to watch their favourite sport.

  Mr Wakeling: That is exactly the business model, yes.

  Mr Darcey: It may be that there is one person in the home and they might be male, I do not want to be stereotyped here, that is a strong fan of football, but the decision to subscribe or to continue subscribing to Sky will typically be a household decision. It may be that the wife is interested in horsy-type things.

  Q1103  Lord Holme of Cheltenham: And the daughter has a pony.

  Mr Wakeling: Yes. Part of the commercial model is appealing to all members of the household.

  Chairman: We have got the point now. I want to change gear entirely. We are not doing only sports, we are doing a whole range of other things and one of the very important things we are doing is religious broadcasting.

  Q1104  Bishop of Manchester: In your written evidence you said 40 per cent of 15-25 year olds have Sky, 82 per cent of 4-15 year olds and 75 per cent of 16-34 year olds live in multi-channel homes. That is a significant connection with an age group which includes people who are forming their views, acquiring knowledge and so on. During the evidence you have given this afternoon it was said that people are attracted to BSkyB subscription because of the breadth of choice available and I think at that moment we were not only thinking of sport but films were mentioned and the news channels. What about religious broadcasting and religious programming, where does that fit into BSkyB?

  Mr Le Jeune: We offer on Sky One a religious programme which runs for an hour early on a Sunday morning.

  Q1105  Bishop of Manchester: What are the viewing figures for that?

  Mr Le Jeune: I do not know, but I would be very happy to find those out for you and let the Committee know. I looked at the very interesting evidence sessions you had with the BBC and other broadcasters and also with the members of faith groups before coming here and then as a consequence of that I took a look at the electronic programme guide which is available to subscribers to the digital satellite platform. There is something of the order—I would not swear these figures are absolutely correct—of ten Christian television channels free-to-air on the platform, two Muslim channels, one Hindu channel, nine Christian radio stations, one Sikh radio station and one station which describes itself as "a multi-faith Asian radio channel". It is interesting to carry out that study in a sense because the discussions you had with the faith groups and with the other broadcasters were focussed on a fairly narrowly defined aspect of public service broadcasting which they were required to carry out. The channels we are talking about here are on the digital satellite platform. We are required by law to give channels that have a licence fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory access to the platform. We do not exercise any control over them or their content. There is clearly a demand out there for dedicated religious broadcasting both on television and radio which I think puts into perspective some of the discussion you had with the terrestrial broadcasters.

  Q1106  Bishop of Manchester: Do you allow a discounted rate?

  Mr Le Jeune: We do. That is a discounted rate that applies to charitable organisations organising channels. We do not discriminate between religious and other charities.

  Q1107  Bishop of Manchester: What sort of discount is it?

  Mr Le Jeune: It is of the order of 40 per cent, so it is substantial.

  Q1108  Lord Maxton: That would be to the other community channels as well, would it?

  Mr Le Jeune: Yes, to all channels that are charitable.

  Q1109  Lord Maxton: If one of the American more right-wing religious channels came to you and said they wanted to broadcast on your platform would you say, "That's fine, you are licensed and you are allowed to do it"?

  Mr Le Jeune: The decision is taken out of our hands. By law we must offer fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory access to the platform. Making valued judgments of that kind is not a thing for us.

  Mr Darcey: They have a licence from Ofcom.

  Mr Le Jeune: Ofcom must make that decision.

  Q1110  Bishop of Manchester: Like it or not, religion is big news in the world today and therefore it is very important when it is referred to in accordance with what may be happening in various parts of the world that there is some expertise, that people are given a reasonably intelligent background to why something may have happened. What facilities do you have in forming the news bulletins to access the kind of informed opinion that something as serious as religion, belief or non-belief requires?

  Mr Le Jeune: On that I think I would have to plead ignorance and ask if I might write to the Committee. I think it is true that Sky News has a very high reputation for the quality and the unbiased nature of its reporting, but I am afraid I do not know if it has a specifically religious expertise in that way.

  Q1111  Bishop of Manchester: If there was some scientific point which was being reported on the news it would be likely that you would be going to somebody whose expertise in that was accepted. There can be a tendency when dealing with religious matters for it to be done in a slightly amateur way. I am not saying Sky News does do that, but I would be grateful if what you have just offered the Chairman could be followed up and we could receive that in writing.

  Mr Le Jeune: Indeed. As a keen watcher of Sky News I cannot say I have detected any of the possible amateurishness that you have spoken of when dealing with religious matters in which I am personally interested. I will ask the question and write to the Chairman about that.

  Bishop of Manchester: That may prove that you have got the knowledge and expertise available, but it would be interesting to see how it is made up. Thank you very much.

  Chairman: Can I change gear yet again at this point? We are also looking at regional broadcasting and broadcasting around the country. We have been to a number of places including Manchester.

  Q1112  Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I am sure that you have been thinking about the BBC's proposals for a shared production hub in Manchester. What are your views on this?

  Mr Le Jeune: We have a blank sheet of paper on this!

  Mr Wakeling: A few years ago I did go to Manchester where there was a small television studio and I did make a recommendation that perhaps more could be happening there, but the communications at the time and the costs of getting everything up there ruled it out. I am not quite sure that we have a view on where the BBC should base itself. In broadcast terms nowadays it does not matter. I am talking about 15 years ago when I was trying to set up another operation within ITV and the communications in and out of Manchester were not at the same level as now. We could be in London, we could be in Birmingham, Newcastle, wherever. As to basing yourself there, I am not quite sure.

  Q1113  Lord King of Bridgwater: Do you not have a big sports unit in Manchester?

  Mr Wakeling: We do not. We have a small sports news unit based in Manchester, another one in Harrogate, another one in Newcastle and one in Scotland. We have small Sky Sports news units based around the country.

  Q1114  Chairman: Would there be any objection to having a shared production hub with someone like the BBC?

  Mr Wakeling: In using their studios?

  Q1115  Chairman: In using joint studios.

  Mr Wakeling: No, there would be no objection at all. In fact, in the past we have used OB trucks from the BBC because we have put everything out to tender, we do not own any of our own facilities. The BBC has tendered in the past and they did win a contract. They did not win it the second time round. We hire facilities from companies in Birmingham and Manchester and various other parts of the country as well.

  Q1116  Lord Maxton: Have you ever considered moving much more into regional broadcasting so that you were doing maybe regional news and regional sport and you might show Scottish football in Scotland but you would maybe show the Newcastle against Sunderland game and make it exclusive to your viewers in the North-East?

  Mr Darcey: Twice in my time at Sky the question has been posed as to whether we should develop regional news services of some kind, setting news or whatever you might want to call it and both times we have looked at it we have found it commercially unattractive. Essentially the challenge has been the news gathering costs and we struggle to work out how we will make that up. I tend to wonder whether that might change going forward in a broadband world and whether the economics might improve, but in terms of television, it is pretty challenging for a commercial operator like Sky.

  Q1117  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Which means that it has got to be the BBC is what you are saying.

  Mr Darcey: If you are going to do news coverage in the traditional way with the traditional news gathering model. The reason I referred to things like broadband is because we are starting to see the emergence of behaviour on the internet in which the citizen is becoming a journalist in one sense. If you extrapolate some of that behaviour and you have large portions of the population armed with video cameras which masquerade as mobile phones or something like that and they are sending information in, you can perhaps see a business model that evolves around fostering that activity and trying to coordinate it. If that were possible you might overcome some of those regional news gathering costs. I do not know yet but I sense that there is something changing there.

  Mr Wakeling: As far as regional sport is concerned and Newcastle United versus Sunderland, I think there are Geordies living everywhere who want to watch that and it is the same thing with Scottish football as well. The Scottish Cup Final is listed in Scotland but we do get decent figures in the rest of the territory and the same is true for Scottish football internationals and Welsh football internationals, etcetera.

  Q1118  Lord Maxton: But you do not bid for the Scottish Premier League.

  Mr Wakeling: We did put a bid on the table but we did not succeed.

  Q1119  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My question really goes back both to your previous evidence and a little comment you make in your latest update paper on high definition television which is due to roll out in 2006. I just wondered whether your assessment of the number of television sets that could be available to put over high definition is the same as it was a few months ago. I only mention this because of the very high cost of high definition television.

  Mr Darcey: I do not know what the numbers were that we put over.

  Mr Le Jeune: I am not familiar with that figure either.


 
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