Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1100
TUESDAY 6 DECEMBER 2005
Mr Mike Darcey, Mr Vic Wakeling and Mr Martin Le
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
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,
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
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
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 orderI would not swear these figures are absolutely
correctof 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
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
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
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
Mr Le Jeune: We have a blank sheet of paper
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.
Would there be any objection to having a shared production hub
with someone like the BBC?
Mr Wakeling: In using their studios?
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
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
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