TV bosses 'blew their chance to thwart Murdoch'

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The Independent Online
A former top executive of BSkyB has savaged British television industry chiefs for missing opportunities to co-operate to combat the growing dominance of Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster in the digital television revolution.

Writing in today's Independent on Sunday, Stephen Barden, a former general manager of BSkyB, says the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 passed up the chance 18 months ago to to set up a united front to make digital terrestrial TV (DTTV) a formidable competitor to BSkyB.

"If the industry had sat down and told the Government what they wanted, it would have been hard-pressed to refuse them," Mr Barden says. "As it is, the broadcasters are faced with regulations that satisfy none of them."

Last week, BBC director general John Birt appealed to MPs to curb BSkyB's influence over digital, which will see BSkyB launch 200 new channels from the end of next year.

The row follows publication of the Department of Trade and Industry's draft regulations for digital. The established TV companies have lost the argument that BSkyB's new satellite set-top decoder should be forced to be compatible with DTTV.

Instead the DTI proposes they should be given access to the box, which will be first to market, on fair and reasonable terms.

Mr Barden said that after a joint meeting in November 1995, the BBC, Channel Four, Granada and Carlton rebuffed plans for a common policy and decoder. The industry had spent the time squabbling and is now running for help too late, he says.

Yesterday the BBC's top management was unavailable for comment. But Carlton, which is discussing pay-per-view TV with BSkyB, rejected the criticisms.

A lobbying campaign by the ITV Association for open access to the decoder had removed the need for individual companies to pursue their own set- top box projects, a spokesman said.

Let's get digital, page 3