In January I suggested BT should focus on selling the strengths of its Vision TV service rather than worrying about grabbing cheaper access to Sky’s movie and sports channels.
With today’s news that OFCOM is seeking to impose cuts on Sky’s wholesale prices for some channels that sentiment warrants repeating and expanding to other pay TV providers.
Neither BT Vision or Virgin Media’s customer bases will be instantly boosted by offering two of Sky’s premium channels at a slightly lower price.
After 20 years of availability, it’s fairly safe to assert that almost everyone who wants Sky’s channels has them and has accepted the need to pay what Sky wants for them. Sure, there’ll be a small section of the public who’d like them cheaper but that’s true of many premium products.
The insistence of Sky’s rivals to get its channels at a price which suits them smacks of a desire to coast along on a competitor’s success rather than invest.
We’d all raise an eyebrow if Lada suddenly demanded Porsche supply it with 911’s at a price Lada’s customers could afford, but when it comes to Sky it’s suddenly Ok to sit on the sidelines, allow someone to build the end product and then demand access to it at a price which suits your chosen business model.
That can’t be right.
Access to pay TV isn’t a birthright, it’s a luxury product which some people will inevitably be unable to afford but the desire for commercial success means it’s not in Sky’s interests to price the channels out of the reach of the majority.
There may well be valid issues with the way sports bodies sell rights and as a non-sports fan I marvel at the salaries some players earn and the reported overheads of some sports bodies but Sky wins bids with customer and shareholder money and should be free to set the price for its channels.
Competitors wishing to offer sports or movie rights should dig deep and try outbidding the next time the desired rights come up for auction.
In the meantime there’s much they could do to improve their own offerings. BT for example could look at it’s dire customer service and take the urgently needed steps to ensure customers receive the courteous, efficient and knowledgeable experience they deserve.
It could also wake up to the fact that many homes cannot receive Freeview and offer a Freesat version of the Vision service – the number of online complaints from would-be Vision customers who BT decline to sell to because of poor Freeview reception suggests this would be an instant winner.
At least Virgin is addressing the obstacles of underground cabling by looking to expand the network via telegraph poles. Again, it’s an in-house solution which will potentially bring its services to greater numbers of customers.
The UK pay TV sector needs innovation, that requires all broadcasters to attract large enough audiences to make money but it also requires a little more effort than bleating to the regulator in an attempt to offer a ‘me too’ service dependent on merely reselling a competitor’s product.