Another year, another James MacTaggart Memorial lecture in Edinburgh. The 2009 lecture was memorably given by Murdoch Junior, telling that the BBC’s vision for the future was “chilling”, which was code for the real story: the vision of Sky for the future was the chilling one, but dumping the attribute on the Beeb might distract enough of the easily persuaded to stop them noticing.
BSkyB, after all, has a larger budget than the BBC, although on the basis of original content – barring sport – you may be hard pressed to guess correctly. Fronting the latest advertising for Sky has been Disney Channel import Phineas and Ferb, which you could probably pick up on a number of other pay or even free to view sources.
So it was no surprise that Beeb DG Mark Thompson, giving the 2010 MacTaggart lecture, used the occasion to give Rupe’s TV troops both barrels, especially over the lack of original programming. Mischievously, Thompson even suggested that Sky might pay free to air commercial broadcasters to air their content, thus allowing them more headroom for making more and better original programmes (right now it is those broadcasters who are paying Sky to carry their channels).
After all, cable operators in the USA pay Rupe to carry his content, even though that means our old friends at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). The Murdochs don’t like the idea, and will be moving to stop it gaining traction. Why? Half of all viewing on cable and satellite in the UK is ITV, Channel 4, and Five. If Rupe and Junior weren’t carrying those channels, their subscription offerings [my emphasis] would look that much weaker – even with the Disney Channel imports.
Was the lecture merely a dig at Sky? Of course not – Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was in the audience (apparently a first), and Thompson was aiming as much at him as at Rupe and Junior. Will it have any bearing on the often hostile attitude of many Tories towards the Beeb? Watch this space.