On Tuesday, Sky will be accused in the High Court of taking an idea for a television talent show and handing it to a production company run by Elisabeth Murdoch without crediting the originators of the format.
The media giant is being sued by music business couple Brian Wade and Geraldine Perry, who claim that Must Be the Music, was based on their ideas for a rival to ITV’s The X Factor which featured original songs rather than cover versions. Sky is strongly contesting the claim.
After what they describe as eight months of negotiations with Sky’s commissioning team, the couple claim they were told the satellite broadcaster did not wish to proceed with their proposal. But months later, in August 2010, auditions began for Must Be the Music, a Sky1 show presented by Fearne Cotton.
Wade and Perry allege that the show’s use of a judging panel of celebrity singer-songwriters rather than music executives was another of their ideas. Must Be the Music featured a panel comprised of Dizzee Rascal, Sharleen Spiteri and Jamie Cullum.
The show was made by Princess Productions, which is a subsidiary of Shine, the “super-indie” production company which Ms Murdoch founded in 2001. Shine was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in 2011 for $673 million, a deal which made his daughter a personal fortune of $214 million (£129 million).
Prior to setting up Shine, Ms Murdoch was a senior Sky executive. She rose to become Managing Director, Sky Networks, giving her responsibility for the company’s programming business and its news, film and entertainment channels.
Wade and Perry argue that the idea that songs from the talent show were made available as chart-eligible downloads was also part of their original proposal. The couple, who will appear at the High Court in London as litigants in person, will say that their negotiations with Sky extended over 14 exchanges between June 2009 and February 2010.
It is understood they will make reference to comments made at the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 2010 by Sky executive Stuart Murphy after the broadcaster was accused of giving too many commissions to Shine. Shine is now wholly owned by 21st Century Fox.
“I’d like to address that head on,” he said. “BSkyB is a part investor in Shine, not the biggest but the second [biggest external shareholder], so all things being equal there is a strategic benefit to working with a company in which we have an investment.”
Wade and Perry will argue that they originally took their format proposal to the BBC but were told that the concept of a show based on original songs was too risky for a prime time Saturday night audience. The couple then went to Sky.
When Must Be the Music debuted in 2010, the idea was well-received for its originality. A review in The Independent stated that “in a world that's increasingly led by downloads and internet trends and shopping, this idea is nothing short of genius. It's actually rather surprising that no UK talent show has done this before”.
Perry said that the couple had invested a great deal in the development of their programme proposal, which began two years before their first meeting with Sky. “We thought we had a great idea,” said Perry. “We felt subsequently that the companies were so locked into each other in terms of ownership that we really never stood a chance of having our pitch assessed on a level playing field.”
Princess Productions, which is not a named party in the action, referred enquiries to Sky. A Sky spokesperson said: “A format infringement claim has been brought against Sky relating to the Sky 1HD show Must Be the Music. We reject the claim and are defending our position.”