BBC’s ‘Money Rant’ Illustrates ‘Clash of TV Civilizations’ and Sky’s Gamble..

Lord Patten always got mouthy after a pint of two..
When Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC told Sky that they should invest more in ‘homegrown’ talent two years ago, he probably wasn’t expecting the broadcaster to take his comments on board, let alone that they would acquire said talent from the Beeb.

Armando Iannucci, Steve Coogan, Jane Horrocks, Ruth Jones, Ralph Little and a host of other BBC legends have since joined forces with Sky and it’s clearly a subject that has irked the departing BBC Controller and his boss.

Yesterday he claimed that while he ‘welcomed’ Sky’s investment, an unwelcome side-effect was the way their projects had forced up the cost of talent both in front and behind the camera. His colleague and chief of the BBC Trust Lord Patten agreed, claiming that “Sky is being run to a considerable extent by former BBC employees who I would guess are doing the job for more money, maybe they have taken Franciscan vows.”

Perhaps Thompson was simply getting one last jab in for the Beeb before he hands over the reins in a few months? There’s no doubt that it would have been a bad opening gambit for his replacement George Entwistle (this way the new chief can wave away the incident when he arrives) but it came across as a bit strange from someone who’s always said that Sky should start creating their own content. Essentially the BBC want to have their cake and eat it.

They never mention it directly, but it’s Sky’s comedy drive (£600m and counting) that’s been hitting the BBC the hardest.

Seen as recession friendly entertainment, sitcoms have been getting more and more screen time, as evidenced by the deluge of panel shows being commissioned by everyone and his dog. People want it and up until now it’s been relatively cheap. But things have changed in the last decade and comedians at the top of their game who might usually have been stuck with the Bebb, now command large salaries from the highest bidder – as evidenced by Jimmy Carr and his K2 scheme (as used by friendly face of the establishment, Gary Barlow, lest we forget…)

Sky is able to splash out on talent – there is less oversight and accountability then the BBC, there is no “Sky TV Trust”. Unlike Sky, the Beeb gets most of its income from the licence fee, paid by anyone (theoretically) who owns a TV. The BBC’s being forced to scale down how much it can pay to it’s talent – Graham Norton and Jeremy Paxman are some of the names rumoured to be taking a pay cut, while Sky are growing by the day.

This was echoed in the BBC’s annual report, released yesterday, which shows that the BBC has cut £9.5 million off the amount it pays its top talent.

The Beeb could increase it’s revenue by proposing to up the licence fee – but this would be met with considerable opposition, especially in our current economic predicament. Either way, Thomson has already agreed to freeze licence fees for the forseeable future (a move many at the Beeb have claimed was his greatest mistake).

As such, this is essentially a ‘clash of TV civilisations’. We have the free-spending multi-million dollar business desperate to crack the market in one corner and the cash-strapped broadcaster with market dominance in the other. Who wins out will depend on how well Sky have invested this extra cash they are pumping into the market. If their subscription levels don’t increase then this cash-flow will soon dry up. Only time will tell..