Cable firms attack Sky tactics

Cathy Newman
Sunday 12 October 1997 23:02

The cable industry has launched an assault on BSkyB's insistence on offering bundles of channels to cable customers. In a submission to the Independent Television Commission, the industry's trade body has called for urgent action to curb this anti-competitive behaviour. Cathy Newman reports.

The Cable Communications Association (CCA) has called for a ban on BSkyB's "percentage carriage requirements" which force cable operators to distribute channels to a minimum percentage of customers whether they want them or not.

Consumers need "greater freedom to choose" by being able to buy single channels, or having the option of purchasing smaller packages of channels grouped or "bundled" together. The CCA says that where customers have been able to select fewer channels "consumer demand for paid TV has risen by a factor of between 50 per cent and 100 per cent". The document adds: "Were this to be replicated nationally, a further 1 to 2 million homes could be brought in to paid TV. The evidence is simply too compelling to ignore."

The submission, which will be considered by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) in its review of "bundling", comes almost three months after BSkyB bowed to pressure from the watchdog and said satellite and cable TV customers could buy the Disney Channel without having to subscribe to two other channels as well.

At the time cable operators welcomed the news but warned that if every channel was available individually many smaller ones could go out of business. The CCA suggests that "mixed bundling" should apply, where channels are offered both as a package or bundle, and on an a la carte basis.

The CCA's document also accuses BSkyB of stifling competition by cross- promoting its channels. The ITC should revise its guidelines, the cable companies claim, to end "competitive abuse", where cable operators are forced to carry satellite promotions but satellite companies are not obliged to transmit cable promotions.

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