Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Sky is not the Limit

Channel 4's 10 O'Clock Live is a pretty hit and miss affair. The programme tries to mimic the formulae of U.S. political satire shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, but to patchy success. Still, one must give 10 O'Clock Live presenter Charlie Brooker props when he astutely summarised what the world would be like if Rupert Murdoch owned the actual atmospheric sky instead of just BSkyB, saying: "The rainbows will be pay-per-view, the clouds will rain down hate and the sun will be full of shit."

With a net income of £11.7 million and employee base counting 16,500; British Sky Broadcasting is an unfortunate cultural phenomenon of modern British television that uncontrollably sabotages the British viewers' right to watch stuff at a reasonable price. Since BSkyB's formation 21 years ago the broadcaster has secured over 10 million subscribers and radically transformed the face of national viewing by shamelessly charging the rate of a mini-mortgage for watching just about everything that was once available for free. In turn, Murdoch's acquisition of Premiere League soccer broadcasting rights has made the sport prohibitively expensive to watch, and exponentially inflated the salaries of footballers who wouldn't even qualify digging ditches in the streets for free. Even this month's Oscars' ceremony will be off-limits unless audiences shell out for a pricy subscription to Sky Movies just so that that they can see The King's Speech undeservingly nab nearly all the top awards.

Last week saw the launch of another superfluous addition to the Sky fraternity of uninspired channels with the introduction of Sky Atlantic, a channel that seriously relies too heavily on American content with 40% of all programming coming directly from HBO for which Sky paid £150 million in a five-year deal for their entire archive, plus new programming and a first-look deal on all HBO co-productions.

Despite a promotional blitz extolling the greatness of watching Sky Atlantic's American shows that have already been shown on terrestrial channels or have been available online for months, the channel's progress hasn't been shaping up too well. The launch of the seventh series of HBO drama Entourage barely managed to flick the ratings needle with an average of just 18,000 viewers. The last series of Entourage aired on ITV2 averaged about 200,000 viewers per episode, with the final episode hitting 300,000. On its launch night last Tuesday with Boardwalk Empire (directed by Martin Scorsese, reportedly the most expensive pilot ever made at $18 million), Sky Atlantic attracted 438,000 viewers, while Tom Selleck cop drama Blue Bloods drew 225,000. Yet by the end of its first week in operation, Sky Atlantic's top-rating show that day was a re-run of the 10-year-old pilot episode of Six Feet Under, with a woebegone 53,000 viewers.

BSkyB chief operating officer, Mike Darcey, told The Guardian that ratings are much more important to free-to-air broadcasters such as ITV2 that are reliant on audience figures to sell advertising. Darcey added that it is the "column inches" about Sky Atlantic that is more important at the moment as it is about making the overall Sky channels portfolio attractive to subscribers.

Truth is that as a nation we are not fazed by concept of having to pay to watch things that 20 years ago we wouldn't be happy about paying for. Worryingly, last month James Lyons in the Daily Mirror slammed Prime Minister David Cameron for having dinner with James Murdoch (Rupert's son) as the Government considers the final say on whether the Murdochs' £7.5billion to takeover BSkyB is acceptable.

By enabling Murdoch's stranglehold of BSkyB to tighten further there's greater risk of him getting away with broadcasting even more worthless stuff that fills our television screens full of shit. Charlie Brooker has never been more right.

1 comment:

  1. That Murdoch continues to pollute the media industry in Britain, The US and Australia is a crying shame. No government has ever had the balls to stand up to him. But why? He owns a few propaganda sheets and half the TV stations but not nuclear weapons or anything.

    As for James Murdoch, the money guy for Rawkus records, I have even less respect for him than his father. That his label 'nurtured' a whole load of artists then folded when it was clear that Mos Def was never going to be as big as Ja Rule and Company Flow were no Wu-Tang just pulled the plug. I know record labels aren't charities but it doesn't half smack of Murdoch Senior's relationship to the printers of The Times in the late 80s/early 90s.

    Murdoch will eventually get ITV and The BBC will lose its licence monopoly, leaving us with only American shows, news like FOX, and the BBC will have even more house decoration and cooking shows.