Pub Landlords Get One Over On Sky

Pub landlords get one over on SkySky TV has a strong market presence in providing big screen football to the drinking public in licensed premises in the UK. This virtual monopoly has long been a bone of contention for ‘Mine Hosts’ keen to encourage soccer imbibers to their premises for the big games, but over a proverbial barrel in terms of the price they have to pay.

Sports rights owners sell their rights by territory, but radio waves beamed out of the heavens know little of national country borders, and some enterprising landlords have made arrangements to take their soccer from sources other than the UK licensed broadcaster, Sky.

Pub landlords get one over on SkyGreek, Czech and Arabic satellite TV channels have signed up with the UK’s Premier League for coverage of the UK’s beautiful game, and the deal they have is at a much better price (as we’d expect), than the one Sky negotiated, in what is a competitive market for commercial coverage of the national game.

British licensed premises can pay up to £6,000 a year for Sky’s football package and the same games, without the irritating commentary, can be received for a more manageable £39 a week from overseas operators.

Sky feel that such arrangements are against their interest and are taking the matter to court, but there’s an argument that the free EU market should permit the Greek ‘grey’ import to be available to the market. While the legal niceties are sorted out, packages designed to satisfy the UK market are clearly available on the Internet and are labelled as ‘legal’ for British pubs, citing the European soccer body EUFA .

More PE Takeover Talk At NTL

The much heralded NTL/Telewest merger, expected to be the saviour of the UK cable industry, has become the subject of another Private Equity takeover rumour and the likely winner, if it goes ahead, is Richard Branson.

A quick recap
Branson did a deal with NTL that saw Virgin mobile become part of a four-play (geddit?) proposition, allowing the operation to use the Virgin brand and in return received 10.6% of the company. The merger of the three companies has not yet bedded in, and customers across the country are still waiting for the promised improvements in the notoriously poor levels of customer support.

Flextech the programming arm of the company, which was up for sale at the time of the earlier merger (I hope you’re paying attention), is likely to again be offered up for acquisition to media companies. A great way for potential new investors to make a chuck of their cash back.

Market reaction
The market has viewed the possible takeover positively, as it considered the cable company is still under valued following its 20% share price drop in the last three months. More recently shares in the company, quoted in the US, gained around 8% last week, on the possible fresh takeover.

What would the impact be?
If a takeover goes ahead, then the focus will be on installing a strong management team to leverage the offering against well established competition from BT and the newer entrants to the market, like Tiscali whose purchase of Homechoice has put them in the triple-play space, and Sky who are rolling out a broadband proposition under their own well known brand.

Guardian g24, A PDF Newspaper: Overview

Guardian g24, A PDF Newspaper: OverviewThe UK’s national leading left newspaper, The Guardian, has been looking at what it thinks is the future of the daily newspaper. Since the successful launch of its Berlin edition in 2005, which rolls out of the presses somewhere between the size of a tabloid and the more traditional ‘quality’ broadsheet, it’s done a pile of blue sky thinking.

As well as producing lively Podcasts on media and business, it now brings the much heralded digital ‘Newspaper of the future’ to your computer – sorry paperboys and girls, looks like your days could be numbered.

The answer to the blue sky thinking that it’s put together is pretty radical and out there (literally) for you to try. A downloadable PDF newspaper. It comes as a group of 5 pdfs that are updated every 15 minutes throughout the day and it can be printed on your standard A4 desktop printer. The editions are compartmentalised as Top stories, World, Media, Business and Sport and offer a fairly amazing step forward for newspaper distribution, cutting out a whole tier of distribution. Only becoming physical when printed by the reader – and at the readers expense.

Guardian g24, A PDF Newspaper: OverviewSince the eBooks.

The challenge for any venture like this is to keep the current revenue stream running while building a new wave stream. It’s a brave move and we hope it’ll give a challenge to the rest of the UK news industry.

Guardian g24

UK Analogue Radio Gets A Bashing

UK Analogue Radio Gets A BashingDAB in the UK has had a good week with prices dropping to an all time low, with High Street retailers are now making available a DAB radio with CD player for under £50.

To add the icing to the digital radio cake, Dixons the domestic electronics giant that made its name in radio more than 50 years ago, has announced its decision to drop conventional analogue ‘steam radio’ from its portfolio (But they appear to make a habit of grabbing press about this type of thing, having done it with VCRs already).

Although a date has been set for UK analogue TV to closedown, no such decision has been made for radio, and with radios outnumbering TVs at something like 4 to 1 any planned switchover is bound to be some way into the future.

DAB radio coverage in the UK is approaching 85% but the rollout in the rest of the world is patchy, with markets like the USA favouring a pay-model satellite-delivered radio service with brands like Sirius. Competition from the drm (Digital Radio Mondiale) standard and commercial operators like Worldspace are also creating uncertainty in territories that are characterised by dispersed populations across large land masses.

There are now over 270 UK analogue radio transmitting licences issued and they’re still leaving OFCOM’s shelves as fast as they become available, but with a promise of a further national DAB multiplexes and a likely radio presence from Channel 4, the future of radio is looking increasingly digital.

UK Analogue Radio Gets A BashingSky’s satellite hybrid gnome receiver has so far failed to dazzle and, like the semi-portable internet radios, it’s perceived as overly complex for the average punter who prefer the Freeview-like DAB proposition.

Not all retailers of radio see the disappearance of analogue radio as inevitable in the near future. There are important extra features to tempt people, like EPG, pause live and track identification, which make digital services far ‘sexier’ than conventional wireless,

What will show DAB has arrived? We reckon that once the DAB pirates hoist their Digital aerials, the technology will have well and truly arrived.

Sky Results: Long-Term Concerns?

Sky Results: Long-Term Concerns? BSkyB results for the last year were broadly in line with predictions, but seasoned watchers of all things financial, recognise tell-tale signs of a flattening of the growth curve. The company has managed its spend on programming well, but technology costs remain high, with significant outgoings on expensive High Definition equipment, that won’t bring instant revenue returns.

Sky, as the company brands itself in the UK, looks increasingly like a utility platform-come-broadband wars‘ that are unlikely to see any great financial gains for those taking part.

As Telcos have become drawn into offering entertainment packages to make their own offerings ‘sticky bundles’ – that their customers are loathe to detach themselves from – the entertainment companies are forced to provide competing phone and broadband packages, along with the capability of on-demand TV downloads. This won’t be cheap, as Sky has already found to date with its Easynet purchase, and may prove to be more expensive, if they decide to acquire the UK AOL subscribers from Time Warner.

Sky’s average revenue per subscriber (ARPU) has dropped by £4 and along side this they’re facing stiffer competition from Freeview, the UK Digital Terrestrial platform. Freeview now has a free-to-air movie channel (Film 4) and is due to add two further entertainment channels provided by the UK channel ‘Five’ this autumn. Cost-conscious multi-channel homes will continue to gravitate to this low frills platform.

Sky, like pay-TV services worldwide, has a high churn rate, although its managed to reduce this, it remains somewhere over 10% (that’s the percentage of subscribers over the past year who ended their subscriptions). Achieving this has been costly with increased promotional spend and marketing offers to keep current subscribers signed, which has in-turn hit the bottom line.

Sky Results: Long-Term Concerns? James Murdoch the CEO of BSkyB told the corporate world that “Our industry is changing faster than ever before and for Sky, 2006 has been an important and exciting year.”

With the NTL/Telewest /Virgin mobile merger and its re-brand starting to gather traction, it looks like Sky can look forward to even more excitement in 2007.

SMG And UTV Merger On The Cards?

SMG And UTV Merger On The Cards?Following the surprise resignation of SMG’s Chief executive Andrew Flanagan, the pieces are in place for consolidation of the Scottish and Ulster media outfits that provide the Celts with their ITV services.

SMG’s share price has been underperforming and in this time of ‘challenging market’ conditions in the advertising sector, any opportunity to trim costs will be welcomed by city investors and commentators alike.

SMG, although mainly associated with television, has a diverse media portfolio including the cinema advertising outfit Pearl and Dean along with Virgin Radio. The two look a good fit, the well managed UTV stable owns the Wireless group that includes the successful Talksport station and is becoming active in what they refer to charmingly as New Media. UTV had been named as possible buyers of Irelands’ commercial broadcaster TV3, but this was ultimately unsuccessful, it may now look to expand in Scotland.

SMG And UTV Merger On The Cards?With many predicting the imminent departure of Charles Allen, ITV, a shareholder in SMG has troubles enough of it’s own to be ruled out of a takeover.

Although it would have a battle to justify expansion north of the border now, given time the advantages to all concerned mean a single ITV is likely to be the final end-game.

Shaun Woodward Paints A Rosy Picture For UK Digital TV Switchover

Shaun Woodward Paints A Rosy Picture For UK Digital TV SwitchoverShaun Woodward (right) the MP famed for the twin disgraces of his defection from the Conservatives to Labour and a stint working with Esther Rantzen on That’s Life, is now Creative Industries minister and is busy singing the virtues of the UK’s Digital TV switchover plans.

According to the minister, there’s going to be a golden digital age in the UK as more and more employment is provided by the creative industries, our children enjoy interactive education, the sick benefit from Tele-medicine and the new technologies even help the government with transport and defence industries.

Woodward speaking last week at a Royal Television Society event, Digital Switchover- Making it Happen did not seem to think that finding the £26.99 that you can now buy a Freeview box from Argos for, would pose a problem amongst the financially challenged members of the electorate in the deprived St Helens constituency he now represents. Woodward in fact hinted obliquely that although they might fail to feed their children properly and many have high levels of debt, he’d observed some good ‘entertainment kit’ in their homes.

Accompanied by Ford Ennals (below right) the Chief executive of Digital UK, the body charged with making it happen, he made clear that BBC licence fee; although not yet agreed, would be settled by the end of the year and this was would fit in with the digital switchover schedule. ‘The Government needs to be satisfied that licence fee payers are getting value for money,’ he told the audience but he was ‘confident that they’ll get the right number’ at the end of the process of negotiation with the BBC.

Ennals revealed that surveys from trial areas indicated high levels of satisfaction particularly amongst the over 75s, who along with other vulnerable groups that might find the new technology challenging, would be getting assistance. Ennals is busy co-ordinating Digital UK’s nine project strands that include the thorny issue of resolving the platforms being made available to those in Multi Dwelling Units (that’s flats and the like to you and me).

The switchover which is being rolled out region by region, will swap out the old analogue transmissions with super new digital ones starting in what was the Border TV region in 2008 and finishing up, not as originally planned in London, but in the less challenging areas of Tyne Tees and Ulster thus avoiding any conflict with 2012 Olympic games coverage in the nation’s capital.

Creative Minister Paints A Rosy Picture For UK Digital TV SwitchoverDigital UK had the current 98.5% coverage as a target and expects to meet this with additional coverage being by satellite, cable and broadband. Current figures indicate a rump of around 2% of refuseniks, those viewers content with a meagre 4 or 5 channels who see no value in multi-channel viewing, but expectations are this number will shrink as the digitisation spreads across the country like a warm front.

The average cost per household is predicted to be around £130 the extra costs are likely to be those second and third TV sets that are so easily forgotten, new rooftop aerials and replacement of analogue video recorders.

Woodward repeatedly refused to answer the question as to why the government felt it was the BBC’s responsibility to handle switchover issues rather than Government, who have been happy to find funding to subsidise the over 75s TV licence fees.

The Minister agreed that there were questions still to be resolved, like the value of continuing the current ‘gifting’ of spectrum to Public Service Broadcasters after switchover, and how the desire for High Definition would be met, but they were being evaluated so no need to worry there then.

Digital UK with stakeholders across industry and broadcasting would not make the mistakes seen in Italy, where a planned ‘big bang’ switchover for 2006 had not even registered as a moderate whimper. In the UK it is all so far going swimmingly and Ford thinks the BBC will be keeping up the good work as long as the BBC licence fee is agreed by year end as Shaun assured us it will.

ITN Manoeuvres For The Future

ITN manoeuvres for the futureThe news that ITN’s shareholders have agreed to shore up the embattled UK commercial news provider to the tune of £1 million, might be thought to inspire confidence in the organisation’s long term future.

Not so long ago, ITN’s management were expecting that given time they’d be subsumed into ITV on a regulatory nod through, but recent developments at the UK’s leading commercial ITV company have made this look far less likely.

ITN has been caught in the crossfire around ITV and although it now proclaims that linear 24-hour news channels are a thing of the past, it was undoubtedly a body blow when it was announced before Christmas, that it was to lose its own around the clock TV news channel.

History may prove this an astute move, the BBC’s only 24-hour UK competitor, Sky News, had a costly revamp that failed to deliver the proclaimed audience pulling ‘appointment to view’, it had hoped for and the channels supremo, ex-ITN producer Nick Pollard paid the price with his own resignation.

So ITN has been off and had a think about what it should do to stop its operation being marginalised. It’s come back with a suite of ITNs. ITN will now have 6 divisions along with the catchy byline ‘Right Content. Right Now’, the units will be:

ITN manoeuvres for the futureITN News the TV news broadcast division servicing ITV, ITV London and Channel 4
ITN Source is the new name for ITN archive and its own Website will allow online purchase of content
ITN On will be the multimedia operation including web, mobile phone content and radio.
ITN Consulting will maintain it’s role of marketing consultancy broadcasting expertise
ITN Factual and Visual Voodoo will continue to provide documentary and factual entertainment respectively.

As well as the divisionalisation funding will be used to propel ITN into the HD future.

The position of ITN’s current shareholders is far from clear but with ITV committed to returning cash remaining shareholders may get an opportunity to increase their holdings and 20% shareholder Daily Mail & General Trust has been so effusive of late in its own publications commentaries on ITN cynics might imagine the organisation wants to offload its own holding.

Mark Wood ITN’s current Chief Executive is a former Editor-In-Chief of Reuters editorial who might see some synergies with the former mothership if they wish to grow their curent 20% holding.

Ofcom To Provide Solomon Judgement On HD Frequency Spectrum

One of the challenges facing Stephen Carter’s replacement as head of the UK communications regulator Ofcom, is how the frequency spectrum released by the move to digital terrestrial TV will be allocated. Not only is the decision crucial for Ofcom, who must reconcile both the requirement to allow the market to operate while taking into account the British citizen, but it also figures in the BBC’s strategy around the impending licence settlement and the organisations’ worldwide ambitions.

Although the World Cup has not been the High Definition eruption many in the electronics retailing sector had hoped for, there is now a realisation in the industry; that the move to adoption of flat screen TV displays has started in the homes of Great Britain.

How will displays receive the content to create the impetus for a large scale take up? The likely options are; Cable under what is expected to be a Virgin branded offering; Sky who are pushing HD to protect and grow their revenue; the BBC who are committed to both an alternative to Sky on Satellite and providing their content on all viable platforms and broadband, which looks increasingly viable by virtue of higher transfer rates to the home, along with improved digital compression technologies.

The issue for Ofcom is, should the frequency spectrum vacated by analogue TV go to the highest bidder (which on past experience looks likely to be mobile communications of some sort), or should it propel TV into the HD age with the potential benefit for the UK’s important media industries?

France, slower off the blocks in moving to a Digital Terrestrial TV service, with its’ amusingly acronym-ed TNT, has a solution that builds in HD capabilities, and for sure the UK will not wish to be seen falling behind mainland Europe.

And where does the BBC anguish become an issue? Well, if the only methods of receiving HD are by commercial operators Sky and Cable, how does the BBC reconcile the cost to all viewers when only a subset can receive it? The BBC is terrified of losing arguments that could justify a decrease of its universal fee, or marginalisation of its place as a leader in the deployment of advanced distribution and production technology. They’re actively lobbying to make sure that new frequency plans allow for both mobile TV and HD terrestrial.

Given all this, it looks like Stephen Carter could be showing admirable timing skills in vacating the OFCOM hot seat.

Hollicks Eyes ITV For Takeover Rumour?

Hollicks Eyes ITV For Takeover Rumour?Some commentators expect ITV’s share price to renew vigour over the coming weeks, as rumours of a fresh takeover are fanned by its institutional shareholders. This is despite poor audience performance and strong competition from a publicly owned, but very commercially managed, C4. There are those who are keen to take over the ITV helm where Greg Dyke so publicly failed.

Critics of ITV’s current management are keen to back a plan that can create value where Charles Allen, the current ITV supreme, has so miserably failed. The individual who is being ‘bigged up’ as heading the next takeover bid is the former United Business Media (UBM) executive and Labour luvvie, Lord Hollick.

Hollick knows more than a little about UK commercial TV. While he headed up UBM, it controlled Meridian TV with the most affluent ITV franchise areas that UBM then unloaded to Granada before Granada and Carlton formed ITV. UBM was also at the time of Hollick’s chairmanship a key mover and shaker in the formation of Channel Five, with UBM holding 35% of the company ahead of RTL taking sole ownership.

Hollicks Eyes ITV For Takeover Rumour?Some wonder why the continued interest in ITV as the deregulated non-linear future hurtles closer, but in truth, ITV has a value in both its content and brand that may be undervalued. The channel when compared against the triple and ‘four-play’ options that are so exciting the Telco executives, still has programmes that viewers will seek out. The next 12 months are critical to the brands long term success, as it’s multi channel strategy is tested by the Freeview expansion of C5 with two more channels. Not forgetting the move of Channel 4’s film channel to an advertising supported free to air proposition, a strong assertive strategy could turn the corner for the dominant UK commercial player but more On Digital type disasters could spell a long and unpleasant demise.

Hollicks Eyes ITV For Takeover Rumour?The other left field possibility is that US media titan Time Warner in selling off its UK AOL business has an eye on acquiring a much bigger UK fish that looks astonishingly like the UK’s main commercial TV network- eyes should be glued to the unfolding drama.