Media: Sky should have a shot at big games: David Elstein cries 'foul' at attempts to stop sports bodies selling their rights to pay TV

In a free society, there must be a compelling reason why the proprietor of a legitimate product, such as a major sporting event, should not be entitled to sell that product where he wishes.

So said the minister steering the 1990 Broadcasting Bill through its committee stage during the debate over 'listed events' - a notion tacked on to the very first Television Act in 1954 to prevent key sporting occasions moving from the BBC to an ITV which then had only a limited transmission area.

The 'listed events' concept has been through many versions, with the exclusion being switched from ITV to cable and satellite. The most recent formula, in 1990, reduced the list to eight events: the FA Cup final, Olympic Games, World Cup finals, Wimbledon finals, the Derby, Grand National, England Test matches and Scottish FA Cup final. It also limited the exclusions to broadcasters charging on a pay-per-view basis - of which at the moment there are none.

Quite why 'the proprietor of a legitimate product' - such as the Test and County Cricket Board - should not 'in a free society' sell television rights to a pay-per-view channel is not clear. After all, the TCCB is allowed to charge an entrance fee to the ground; why not for pictures from the ground?

Last week, the House of Commons National Heritage Committee recommended that channels charging any kind of subscription, not only pay-per-view, should be barred from bidding for the listed events. The target of this manoeuvre is clearly Sky Sports.

But what is so objectionable about a subscription? Is pounds 3 a week a sufficiently 'compelling reason' for Parliament to intervene? To see the Wimbledon finals on cable would involve a small connection charge and a single monthly subscription: is that an intolerable burden for the equivalent of Centre Court seats? As for a dish, the current cost, including installation, is less than for a video recorder.

The argument has been that viewers of free television would be deprived if a listed event switched to satellite. But there is a limit to how much sport the four terrestrial channels can absorb, or how much they are willing to spend on sport as opposed to drama, current affairs and so on. If they can afford to pay the market price, but decline to do so, why should 'viewer deprivation' engineered by terrestrial channel preferences be seen as more important than the interests of sporting bodies, such as the TCCB, who wish to gain the best price for coverage of their events?

Perhaps the concern is that satellite and cable currently only reach 20 per cent of the population. Would the ban be lifted, as the doyen of sports broadcasters, Sir Paul Fox, suggested last week, when that figure reached 50 per cent? As it happens, virtually all the population is in reach, if it so chooses, of cable or satellite.

The TCCB has made clear that it wishes to be 'delisted' so as not to be left at the mercy of the BBC, especially as the BBC fails to offer ball-by-ball coverage of domestic Test matches when it buys exclusive rights. Most of the last afternoon of the hard-fought Lord's Test was lost to cricket fans because the BBC preferred to cover a first-round match at Wimbledon.

The National Heritage committee's recommendation, apparently, does not even extend to barring all satellite channels from bidding for the listed events, just those funded by subscription, rather than advertising. So Eurosport can bid, even if Sky Sports cannot.

In his Guardian column last week, David Mellor applauded the committee's recommendations and warned Sky against bidding for all sports events. Sky covers some 60 sports: how many listed events has it bid for since it was legally allowed to in 1990? None.

So what is all the fuss about? BBC, ITV and Channel 4, with respective incomes of pounds 1.5bn, pounds 1.3bn and pounds 300m, are keen to disadvantage Sky Sports, with a budget of pounds 60m. They want the price of certain sports to be held down, so that they can bid against each other for unlisted events, such as rugby union or Cheltenham.

The minister in the 1990 debate had a phrase for those who would 'deny people the right to sell a legitimate product'. He called it 'empty populism'. That minister, of course, was David Mellor. Four years in politics is a long time.

The writer is head of programming at BSkyB.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
football
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
Louis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
people
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
Latest stories from i100
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 Media

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer / Front-End Designer - City of London

£27000 - £33000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End Devel...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Junior PHP Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Guru Careers: Front End Web Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: Our client help leading creative agencies ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot