Grade says BSkyB 'rips off' the public: Major events could be limited to satellite channel subscribers

MICHAEL GRADE, the chief executive of Channel 4, said yesterday that Rupert Murdoch's satellite television company BSkyB was 'ripping off' the public by charging for sporting events and Hollywood movies which used to be free on terrestrial channels before Sky started.

He told the National Heritage Select Committee, which is considering the future of the BBC, that it would be very sad if national sporting events such as Wimbledon, which Sky is hoping to win for 1995, were only shown on subscription.

During the debate leading up to the Broadcasting Act, Mr Grade said Sky was given special status by cross-media ownership rules and a lower level of programme regulation because it was expected to provide viewers with more choice. But now BSkyB was outbidding terrestrial television and then selling the events at vast amounts to subscribers: its package of channels costs pounds 19.99 a month, three times the BBC licence fee.

The Department of National Heritage is believed to be concerned that the public could lose major sporting events. The Broadcasting Act only rules that they cannot be sold on a pay-per-view service.

Mr Grade asked why BSkyB did not invest in new events to widen choice for viewers, or commission more British-made films. The company was taking close to pounds 500m a year from subscribers, but was putting nothing back into British films, he said. The one exception was Sky News, which was a tremendous service.

Mr Grade said that despite the growth of cable and satellite television and global media companies, he had 'absolute blind faith' in the power of British-made original programmes to attract and hold viewers, pointing to the continuing success of big American networks.

While several MPs questioned the future of the licence fee, and the ability of poor people and pensioners to pay a statutory levy, Mr Grade said that he 'believed fundamentally' in the licence fee. 'The BBC is one of the great institutions of this country' and should not be put at risk, he said.

Mr Grade (who was unusually applauded by MPs on the committee) was followed by Sir Peter Gibbings, the chairman of Anglia Television, and Nigel Walmsley, the chief executive of Carlton Television. They warned of the dangers of allowing the BBC to take advertising as a means of reducing the licence fee, saying it would close them down.

The committee was also concerned about the rapid changes in broadcasting; the general view was that the present system of raising the licence fee could not continue much beyond this century. 'We may be on the final page of the final chapter of the book,' Gerald Kaufman, the chairman, said.

Sir Peter called for the moratorium on hostile takeovers of ITV companies to be extended beyond the New Year, to allow for a proper consideration of all the changes.

Mr Walmsley said, however, that ITV had to develop, it could not be preserved in aspic and mergers between ITV companies should take place. Asked whether London franchises should continue to be split between Carlton on weekdays and LWT at weekends, Mr Walmsley said: 'No. It is a very artificial distinction put in place years ago.'

The select committee will take evidence next week from Marmaduke Hussey, chairman of the BBC, and John Birt, the director-general. Its report will influence a White Paper on the corporation due in the New Year. The BBC is still waiting to hear from the Government whether the licence fee will be raised in line with inflation.

Channel 4 is to start broadcasting through the night on Friday/Saturday and Saturday/Sunday from the end of November. The service, between 2-3am and 6am, will be aimed at young people.

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
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 General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Administrator - East Riding of Yorkshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Administrator - East Ridi...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continuous expansion and growth o...

Recruitment Genius: Automotive Service Advisor - Franchised Main Dealer

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive - West London - £35,000

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A luxury fashion retailer based in W...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
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