TV choice

Today is the 19th anniversay of Sky TV.
When they launched their first four channels in 1989, it was not easy for them, competing against two monoliths, BBC and ITV, offering free to air services. Sky offered choice, but it came at a price the viewer had to pay directly.
As competition Minister I had to take one of the most difficult decisions in that job for the Secretary of State, when the case came before me to merge Sky with its rival subscription service BSB as BSkyB.
I was a competition enthusiast. I wanted the benign power of competition to work its magic, so the UK could have better quality, more choice and lower prices like the richer countries of the world. My first reaction was to prevent the merger, to make the two fight it out for supermacy.
As I studied the market and the figures, I was persauded that the pay TV market was too small and fragile in its early days to sustain two competitors, against the formidable competition of the free to air channels. I came to the conclusion that a merged group would be strong enopugh to survive the early years of build up in the idea of pay TV, and that would provide in due course a serious competitor to the BBC and ITV.
We will never know what would have happened if the two fledgelings had had to slug it out for longer, but we do know that pay TV took off with a stronger played championing its cause.So I say Happy birthday to Sky – you have brought variety and choice into our lives, and have forced changes on the free to air incumbents into the bargain.

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  1. Bob Jones
    Posted February 5, 2008 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Its just a shame we don't have much competition now, the merger of NTL & Telewest saw the end of any cable competition, I guess we must rely on competition between sattelite and cable, while some of us have no choice at all (can't get cable) … still I hope the IPTV age might bring more choice for me.

    Sky is great, I don't have any reason to leave, but I have to wonder what it would be like with some real competition.

  2. Serf
    Posted February 5, 2008 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    If only one of the incumbents didn't fund itself by a protection racket (pay us or you go to jail) then things would be even better.

  3. Stuart Fairney
    Posted February 5, 2008 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I think Youtube and several similar internet services will be a very real competitor to SKY and the mainstream TV providers when people finally inter-connect their TV and computers.

    I have to agree with "serf" however, time to end the state funded, pro-state propaganda machine once and for all, privatise them and close down that which can't find a buyer.

  4. David Hannah
    Posted February 5, 2008 at 3:30 pm | Permalink


  5. Cliff
    Posted February 5, 2008 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I feel that News coverage has improved since Sky came on to the scene, although I have noticed that they have become as PC as the state broadcaster in recent months. This was particually noticeable in their pro climate change agenda and their coverage of the behaviour of so called F1 fans in Spain yesterday, regarding our man Lewis Hamilton. The fake "shock and outrage" displayed every fifteen minutes into the night was really a turn off. By banging on about it and blowing it out of all proportion just fuels racism.

    Many of the other channels in the Sky packageseem to offer many repeats of second rate American imports, this I do not like.
    Sport coverage has improved but at a price that is not within everyone's reach.

    I agree with Serf about the funding of the state broadcaster and as I have said in previous posts to your blog, if the BBC wish to keep public funding then they should be impartial and that includes recruitment policies.

  6. Tony Makara
    Posted February 5, 2008 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of more choice in broadcasting, there is an area where little choice exists, and that is in coverage for higher culture. While channels spend millions on popular culture the higher arts such as opera, ballet and classical music are ignored. Occasionally there might be a programme or two on BBC Four but most of BBC Four's output is still very populist. Now, I've nothing against popular culture, but there ought to be something for people who enjoy higher culture too. When I was growing up I well remember there being lots of higher culture programming on TV and now there is close to nothing. Also as a keen sports fan I'd like to add that I think the Setanta package is much better value for money than the SKY Sports package.

  7. wilf proudfoot
    Posted February 5, 2008 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Was Tory mp first Ceveland then Brighouse &Spenborough….

    Sell all BBC local radio stations to highest bidders….BBC radios are always giving free ads to BBC tv Unfair practice. The whole of the BBC needs privatising . Wilf Proudfoot

  8. mikestallard
    Posted February 5, 2008 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    You must be very proud – and rightly so – of your contribution to Sky.
    Well done!

  9. Bazman
    Posted February 7, 2008 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    SKY tv making TV that the people want since 1989.
    Does anyone seriously think that overall SKY programming is better than the BBC?
    Cos that's wot your gunna get middle England.,3604,95

  10. Stuart Fairney
    Posted February 8, 2008 at 3:15 pm | Permalink


    Can we not be reasonably certain that those subscribing voluntarily to SKY are getting what they want? Because of course, if not, they can terminate their subscription. No such option exists with the BBC.

    If the beeb really are making superior programmes then they can have confidence that they could sell subscriptions accordingly. If not, it is a tacit admission that their output is not desired by those compelled to pay for it ~ like me and millions of others.

    The licence fee's time has come and now long, long gone. It should be abolished by the next tory administration ~ my fear? that "Dave" Cameron won't have the stomach for the fight.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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