SKY continues to buy

(C) Grant Neufield

There’s big news afoot in the world of television. As a form of media it has, with the exception of print, been the worst hit of all the mainstream information platforms.
In terms of advertising revenue, increased competition from the internet, the rapid expansion of Pay Per View (PPV) and subscription services have all taken their toll. By the start of 2009 income from commercials was lower than at any point since the mid-80s.
Welcome 2010. A new decade and, on paper, a new story. This year ITV, the UK’s largest free-to-air commercial television network, saw a 15 per cent rise in income from advertising. There’s an obvious reason why- the World Cup. This value is expected to hold until Christmas, but look further into the future and a familiar, wholly unsettling picture is being painted.
As of October 2010 ITV’s HD services will only be available to satellite subscribers. It’s the first time the broadcaster has ventured into Pay Per View since the ITV Digital disaster of the early noughties. They say advertising will plummet again next year in terms of net value. They also say they’ll use the extra revenue to fund home-made drama. But then they also have a whopping £437 million of debt to take into account, and their current range of original programming offers little in terms of intelligence, and plenty of reasons to stay well clear of the cursed third channel.
Sky itself seems hell bent on securing exclusive rights to all high-end television output by the end of the year. The new HD services from ITV- of significance due to their modernity and popularity as oppose to content- are one thing. But the deal with HBO last week, securing exclusive access to the award winning US studio’s archive of shows, and the apparent negotiations with key HBO rival Showtime AMC, mean that some of the most popular and well made programmes are doomed to a future behind a pay wall for most probably five years. It’s enough to make anyone glad The Wire has come to an end of its gripping narrative.
All of this stands in support of the argument that Sky is buying up quality television without investing in its own. As Media Guardian reported this month on the HBO/AMC deals, the flagship channel of the Britain’s leading subscription service-  Sky1- invested less than BBC 1, ITV 1, Channel 4 and BBC 2 on original programming. Of all the ‘majors’ only Channel 5 forked out less for shows. To put it in perspective, the lowest of the big four spenders allocated £312 million for new content, whereas Sky1 had a paltry £70 million in the kitty.
Apparently Sky1’s drama budget is set to triple in the next three years. It had better do, because with 10 million UK subscribers and enormous expenditure on sport the money, it would seem, is flowing fine. One thing that remains clear is that, as with this week’s news that hospital targets are to be scrapped along with restrictions on income from private patients, the fairer Britain we’ve all been hearing about is looking a little further from reality by the day.