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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before