Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 11 JULY 2007
Mr Chris Shaw and Ms Sue Robertson
Q160 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
I do not know if I mean editorially, but in the sort of culture?
Mr Shaw: Not necessarily culturally but, given
that we could not at that timeand cannot really at the
momentafford to make our own news for £10 million
a year, I think that Sky and five are a very good fit,
editorially and commercially. Culturally, I have not had any problems
either, to be honest, although there are always some tensions
between a customer and its supplier over what is most important.
Overall, I am very happy. For example, one pleasant by-product
is unfettered access to all of Sky's excellent international correspondents.
We could not do that at ITN. We had to send our own people out
Q161 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
From the point of view of your relationship with the powers-that-be
at Sky and at ITN, has there been a difference in its nature?
Mr Shaw: I suppose one difference, if I am being
candidand I did work at Sky for a year, but a long time
agoI was much more aware of the internal dynamics at ITN
than I am at Sky. My dealings are very straightforward there.
I talk to the editor of five News; I have some conversations
with the editor-in-chief of Sky News, and that is it. I do not
really have any dealings with BSkyB, just the news bit of it.
Those conversations are held with our Business and Legal Affairs.
All I can say is that it is a very smooth commercial relationship.
We are looking now at what we are going to do in 2008 and beyond;
whether we need to reschedule bits of our news; the whole challenges
that digital distribution present to us, particularly online,
and so on. However, every time we have suggested new initiatives
they have been very co-operative and they have been very accommodating
as a news supplier; so I have no complaints.
Q162 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Does the editor of five News have a very close relationship
with the editor-in-chief of Sky News?
Mr Shaw: Actually, the last one was left pretty
much to their own devices, but they do meet every dayI
know that. The editor of five News is number three in the
pecking order at Sky News overall; so heit is a "he"
now as wellis a Sky employee but is my supplier. So they
have to learn to serve two masters, if you like.
Q163 Baroness Eccles of Moulton:
The next question follows on very closely from the discussion
you have been having with Lady Bonham-Carter. I think that you
have pretty well set out what the main weaknesses of the ITN's
bid would have been in your description of the fact that they
have three rival commercial broadcasters, and obviously, with
ITV being a 40% shareholder, that clearly would have had some
influence. I do not know if there are any other weaknesses in
the ITN's bid that you would like to tell us aboutmaybe
yes, maybe nobut the question I want to move on to, very
much arising out of what you have just been saying, is this. From
your description, your access to news now is very much greater
than it was when you were tied in to fettered access, and it would
be interesting to know what difference that has made to the quality
and scope of news you have been able to put out. However, perhaps
you should tell me if we have missed anything out on weaknesses
in the ITN's bid first.
Mr Shaw: There were other factors but, to be
honest, I think that some of it is commercially sensitive, and
quite personal as well; so I would rather not discuss them in
a forum like this. All I can say is that it was not just about
price and quality; there were other factors involved. On the way
that we have benefited from the new supply agreement with Sky,
I have mentioned the access to their expensive bureaux of seven
international operations and correspondents, all of whom send
us pieces and will do things for us on a bespoke basis too. We
also have access to Sky's excellent network of satellite uplinks,
trucks and so on. For example, if Adam Bolton finds something
out for Sky, we get told as quickly as the Sky News desk get told.
It is not just the pictures, therefore: it is the journalism too.
Suddenly we have, if you like, the kind of firepower ofwhatever
it isthe 250-odd producers, correspondents and so on, who
work at Sky, in addition to the 60 who are directly employed for
Q164 Baroness Eccles of Moulton:
Have you had any feedback from viewers who have specifically said
that they have noticed a change in the quality of the news since
the contract changed?
Mr Shaw: We have done some research and we find
that Sky News is held in very high esteem by TV news consumers
generally, and the comments have been positive. I think that they
have noticed more foreign and feature reporting and more production
value going into the news; because, as we can depend more on Sky
to supply what I would call the basic day-to-day, routine news,
we can focus our resource on more specialist activities, whether
they be overseas or feature reporting, and so on.
Do you say there are 250 correspondents?
Mr Shaw: No, 250 journalists and production
staff work at Sky.
Journalists and production staff?
Mr Shaw: Yes. I could not give you the exact
Ms Robertson: And we have 60.
What is the exact figure as far as five is concerned?
Mr Shaw: At the last count, it is about 58.
Journalists and ... ?
Mr Shaw: These are dedicated staff. They include
directors, graphic artists
How many journalists do you actually employ?
Mr Shaw: About two-thirds of them would count
It would be unfair then to say that five News is really
Mr Shaw: In what sense?
That it is just a spin-off of Sky News?
Mr Shaw: It is a department of Sky News. They
certainly think it is quite an important part of it. But it is
not Sky News; it is five News. It is branded as five
News and, while it uses some Sky News' reports and services, if
you look at a typical five News programme, I do not think
you would say, "That looks like the half-hour of Sky News
that I watched just an hour ago". Not at all.
Ms Robertson: I think I am right in saying that
the dedicated staff we have now is exactly the same level as it
was when ITN ran the news for us. The difference is we have this
other area of journalism we can dip into.
Q172 Lord Maxton:
I am tempted to ask whether, because of Sky News, you have been
involved at all in their dispute with Virgin Media.
Mr Shaw: No.
Q173 Lord Maxton:
You have not been told to take it on or something?
Mr Shaw: No.
Q174 Lord Maxton:
Given that we are going digital by 2012that is the whole
country, and large parts of it is to be before thatand
Sky News run a 24-hour news service on the digital platforms,
will they not then feel that perhaps you are a competitor to them
on those digital platforms and say, "Sorry, we're not going
to provide you with news any more"?
Mr Shaw: Actually, they are quite keen to extend
their contract with us, so I do not think that can be the case.
The truth is that we are a general entertainment channel and we
do not compete with Sky News as a specialist news channel on any
platform, I believe. I think that another factor for the fit being
good is that Sky like a terrestrial stage, if you like, for their
Q175 Lord Maxton:
In a sense, there will not be a terrestrial stage any more.
Mr Shaw: No, there will not but, while there
is, they are quite keen to be on it. That was one of the motives
for their keen bid. I think that they wanted a showcase to a broader
Q176 Lord Maxton:
Given that, do they give you any benefits in terms of advertising
on the Sky channels, or do they advertise the fact that they provide
news to you on their Sky websites?
Mr Shaw: They get a credit at the end, like
all of our suppliers, which says "Sky News". Yes, if
you look on the Sky website I think that you will find some reference
to five News there. On the five News website, I
am not sure. I think that they provide us with a basic online
news service; but we have developed our own initiative in that
area, which is called Your News, and it is quite a different
Q177 Bishop of Manchester:
I would like to quote from the Ofcom discussion document published
last week, New News, Future News. On page 23 it says, "five
News has struggled to gain an audience for its news programmes
in the face of BBC and ITV opposition. Before the channel's launch
it was said none of the consortia interested in bidding for the
licence wanted to carry any news programming at all". Eventually,
of course, news was mandated by Parliament. It goes on to say,
"Since its inception, five's peak-time bulletin has
been tried in several slots and has now been cut back from half
an hour to 15 minutes at seven o'clock in the evening". Earlier
on, in response to a question from Lord King, you gave the current
audience figures. What I would like to try to extract from you
is a sort of graph of the audiences over the last ten years. Can
you give an indication of how the pattern has been established
and, if possible, in the three different slots that you have?
Mr Shaw: That is quite a complicated question,
but one thing I would say is that, on September 3, we are reverting
to a full half-hour at 7 p.m.
Q178 Bishop of Manchester:
What is the thinking behind that? You have reversed a trend, which
is encouraging news, but what has prompted you to do it?
Mr Shaw: We think that it works better in the
schedule at a half-hour. We have plans to evolve the nature of
the programme in 2008. We recognise that the pioneering we did
ten years ago needs to be rediscovered, and I am very determined
to do that. That is very much the task I have been set, and so
the extension of that duration is part of that process, along
with the Your News initiative I mentioned earlier on. On
audiences and flipping around the schedule, we are obliged by
Ofcom to have 102 hours of news in peak between 6.30 and 10.30
p.m. You are wrong to think of the seven o'clock as our main news
of the day. Our main news of the day is at 5.30. As you will see,
it has a reasonably healthy audience.
Q179 Bishop of Manchester:
I am quoting the Ofcom report. That was not my opinion.
Mr Shaw: No, but it is a mistake you can easily
make: that, because it is a statutory obligation, therefore this
must be the most important. Actually, our 5.30 news is the most
important news to us in terms of being our flagship, partly because
it has many more viewers and a much better audience share.