Sky One was claiming a major broadcasting coup last night after it secured a deal for exclusive rights to the hit American drama Lost, previously one of the flagship shows on Channel 4.
The drama, which tells the story of 48 air crash survivors stranded on a desert island, has been a key part of the schedule on Channel 4 and its sister network E4. The launch episode last year attracted an audience of 6.1 million, partly thanks to a frenzy of anticipation whipped up by a £1m marketing campaign.
But faced with an exceptionally large rival bid from Sky One's owners, BSkyB, whose chairman is Rupert Murdoch, Channel 4 chose to cut its ties with the show. BskyB is thought to have paid in the region of £20m each for the third and fourth series.
Channel 4 had a deal with the Walt Disney Company, which makes the show through its subsidiary BVITV, to match any offer made by a rival broadcaster. It is understood to have chosen not to exercise this right after a calamitous fall in ratings. Lost averaged 4.1 million viewers during its opening series, but the second series managed only 2.8 million.
Aimed at young, intelligent viewers, Lost was so attractive to advertisers that Channel 4 was tempted into giving the 36-minute episodes a slot of 65 minutes in order to cram in as many commercials as possible. This tactic drew censure from the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom.
News of the deal will anger fans of the show who do not have access to Sky One, a pay-for satellite and cable channel. The third series will start on Sky One next month and will be available for downloading as video-on-demand but only to Sky subscribers.