Bunny bugged: Murdoch pulls the plug on Britain's latest TV channel

Feud with rival mogul highlights the dangers of concentrating power in the hands of one man, writes Mathew Horsman

A bitter personal feud between two of the world's most powerful media figures means British television viewers will not now have see an entirely new channel today.

Rupert Murdoch's fight with Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, and Time Warner, the entertainment juggernaut, shifted dramatically to Britain last night, when Mr Murdoch's satellite broadcaster BSkyB indefinitely postponed the UK launch of the Warner Channel, originally scheduled for today.

The increasingly bitter and highly personal battle pits Mr Murdoch - conservative, crass, authoritarian and utterly ruthless - against Turner, a Democrat, husband of Hanoi Jane Fonda, and a man troubled by mood swings and bouts of depression. Their war of words has dominated media news in New York for weeks, and has widened to include the city's mayor, New York State's attorney-general and Gerald Levin, the publicity-shy head of Time- Warner, the world's largest entertainment company, and the new owners of Turner Entertainment and CNN.

At risk are crucial distribution agreements that would allow Mr Murdoch's all-news channel to be broadcast in New York City. But the issue has been all but buried under a barrage of lawsuits, insults and sharp tactics. And now the war has gone international, causing some to fear a massive escalation in hostilities between two global giants, in markets far from the epicentre of Manhattan.

The move against the Warner Channel, which infuriated local programming staff in London, means the UK's 4 million satellite and cable TV viewers won't see the channel's vintage movies and TV series, Bugs Bunny cartoons, a Steven Spielberg-produced kids' show called Animaniacs and a Warner TV hit called Pinky and the Brain - all of which Warner had hoped would prove wildly popular in Britain.

The use of Mr Murdoch's 40 per cent-owned BSkyB as a foot-soldier in that war is sure to heighten concerns in the UK over his near-monopoly dominance of the pay-TV market.

BSkyB's control of the satellite market is so complete that broadcasters have no choice but to do distribution deals with the Murdoch-controlled company. Sky alone operates a subscription management system, based on so-called "smart cards," that allows satellite channels to be broadcast only to those households that have paid subscription.

Mr Murdoch's stranglehold on pay-TV has recently been the subject of press comment, including in The Independent, in anticipation of the launch of digital satellite television next year. There are growing concerns that his dominance will emerge intact into the digital age, thereby securing him a "gatekeeper role" over British pay-TV's development.

The mixing of Mr Murdoch's US agenda with the commercial activities of BSkyB will be seen by many in the British television industry as further proof of his powerful market position.

A leading media analyst said: "If I were a shareholder in BSkyB, I'd be asking whether the best interests of the company were being considered, rather than the best interests of one owner."

Executives at BSkyB and at the Warner Channel in the UK declined to comment on the decision. In a statement, the companies said: "The 1 November launch of WBTV-The Warner Channel on BSkyB has been delayed. Preparations continue for a launch at a later date."

Warner was meant to be one of several new channels being introduced this autumn on BSkyB's multi-channel satellite package. The US company has placed billboards around the country promoting the 1 November date. But in recent adverts run by BSkyB, extolling its new services, and in listings guides for satellite and cable channels, there has been no mention of Warner.

It was widely suggested last night that a resolution of Mr Murdoch's wrangles in the US would smooth the way for the Warner Channel launch.

Mr Turner's CNN, which is now part of Time Warner, has 70 million subscribers, while Fox News has just 17 million. Under the terms of the Time Warner/CNN merger, the combined group was required to accept a competing news service on its cable network. It chose Microsoft/NBC over Fox, despite what Mr Murdoch believes were iron-clad guarantees from Time Warner.

Mr Murdoch has already launched a suit against the company, and has enlisted the help not only of the Republican mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, but even the Attorney-General's Office and, of course, his New York City newspaper, the Post. (Interesting, Mr Giuilani's wife, Donna, works for Mr Murdoch's New York flagship television station Fox Five.)

The City of New York obligingly sided with Mr Murdoch, who employs 1,400 at Fox News headquarters in the city. The municipal government even announced it would allow Fox News to run on one of the city's public access channels, which are provided by Time Warner under the terms of its licence.

Time Warner quickly won an injunction against the move, and promptly filed its own suit. In it, the City is accused of acting "essentially as Rupert Murdoch's latest political puppet".

The Post, Mr Murdoch's flagship US newspaper, has been running a steady stream of anti-Time Warner material, and has been vitriolic on the subject of Ted Turner, who last month likened Mr Murdoch to Hitler because he uses his newspapers to promote his own political and commercial agenda.

Mr Murdoch's Fox and Time Warner have each taken out full-page advertisements in the New York press, arguing their corners. Mr Murdoch even hired a plane to circle Yankee Stadium with an anti-Time Warner message. The dispute flared just as the New York Yankees were battling for the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, owned, of course, by none other than Ted Turner.

The use of his newspapers to promote his businesses will remind many of the way the Sun and the Times, particularly, have helped publicise Mr Murdoch's growing satellite TV businesses. More worryingly, many in the industry believe Mr Murdoch's control of more than 30 per cent of the national newspaper market has been the chief reason politicians from both leading parties have been unwilling to challenge the media baron on his pay-TV monopoly.

The indefinite delay of the Warner Channel came on the same day as the Independent Television Commission's invitation to apply for up to four "multiplex" licences for digital terrestrial television. Many now believe that Mr Murdoch's digital satellite plans will pre-empt efforts to get DTT off the ground.

The Warner Channel delay, while minor, could be a harbinger of things to come. Will broadcasters be able to win access to Mr Murdoch's huge distribution system on fair and open terms? Or will they be hostage to the needs of a huge and growing global media empire, run by a single-minded, at times impetuous man, used to getting his own way?

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests