First it was Barry, then Richie and now it's Oscar

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The Independent Online
THE LOSS of the Oscars to Sky TV crowned a bad day for the BBC yesterday. It came after a leak of falling listening figures for Radio 4, a strike announcement by staff, a revolt by journalists about their new editing equipment and an on-screen apology for a Blue Peter presenter's drug-taking.

Sky Movies yesterday snatched the live television rights to the Oscar film awards ceremony, outbidding the BBC. Its all-night programme on 21 March 1999 will be hosted by the film critic Barry Norman, who was also recently poached from the BBC.

"It's not exactly like Premier League football, but the BBC's loss of the Oscars is a bit of a humiliation," said one BBC insider yesterday.

Sky would not reveal how much it had paid for the rights to the biggest event in Hollywood's year, only admitting the deal cost "several millions".

The BBC is believed to have bid unsuccessfully to retain the ceremony. The Academy Awards do not attract large audiences, as they are shown late at night, when most potential British viewers are asleep. But, given the hype and the glitz that surrounds the event, the winning of the rights gives Sky a degree of kudos, and, said a spokesman, it fits in with "the redefining of our movie channels".

Sky is using its movies, alongside football, as a "battering ram" to market its new digital services. Alongside several new film channels, Sky Digital has launched a "near video on demand" service, which allows subscribers to order up pay-per-view films for pounds 2.99. The firm is likely to use the sparkle of the Oscars ceremony in its promotional campaigns for the new channels.

Barry Norman - after many years as the BBC's film critic - will give the Sky programme credibility, but is not representative of the new trend for presenters at the Oscars to dress up as glamorously as the participants. "We don't rule out having a co-presenter in a fancy frock," said a Sky spokesman.

Radio 4 slump, page 3