The dramatic transformation of BSkyB from bombed-out basket case to Britain's commercially best-placed TV company continues to astonish. Rupert Murdoch has sounded the battle-cry and the rest of the commercial television sector had better sit up and take notice. Confirming that it is the most profitable TV broadcaster in the country, Mr Murdoch's 40 per cent-owned BSkyB yesterday unveiled record figures and vowed to expand aggressively into digital television. The ITV companies will have to move fast to keep up.
There are three things that must be done. First, work together on a common standard for digital television, and make sure it provides access to all digital programming, whether satellite or terrestrial. Second, buy or make popular programming, and entice viewers into subscribing for pay services by offering TV (or other services like home banking and home shopping) worth paying for. Third, rely on existing libraries of programming as a mainstay of digital programming - benefit, that is, from the "money for old rope" adage.
Some companies have managed to do one or two of these things already. Pearson has spent heavily to develop a programming library. The ITV companies have spent millions on original production. But only Mr Murdoch has done all three: he has a set-top box for his analogue services, great film and sports programming that 4.2 million British households are paying as much as pounds 23 a month to receive, and a wealth of programming from his Hollywood Fox operations. It may already be too late for traditional independent television.