Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)

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 time—and cannot really at the moment—afford 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 there.

  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 candid—and I did work at Sky for a year, but a long time ago—I 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 day—I know that. The editor of five News is number three in the pecking order at Sky News overall; so he—it is a "he" now as well—is 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 about—maybe yes, maybe no—but 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 of—whatever it is—the 250-odd producers, correspondents and so on, who work at Sky, in addition to the 60 who are directly employed for five News.

  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.

  Q165  Chairman: Do you say there are 250 correspondents?

  Mr Shaw: No, 250 journalists and production staff work at Sky.

  Q166  Chairman: Journalists and production staff?

  Mr Shaw: Yes. I could not give you the exact figure.

  Ms Robertson: And we have 60.

  Q167  Chairman: What is the exact figure as far as five is concerned?

  Mr Shaw: At the last count, it is about 58.

  Q168  Chairman: Journalists and ... ?

  Mr Shaw: These are dedicated staff. They include directors, graphic artists—

  Q169  Chairman: How many journalists do you actually employ?

  Mr Shaw: About two-thirds of them would count as journalists.

  Q170  Chairman: It would be unfair then to say that five News is really Sky News?

  Mr Shaw: In what sense?

  Q171  Chairman: 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 2012—that is the whole country, and large parts of it is to be before that—and 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 work.

  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 audience.

  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 thing.

  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.


 
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