Media: Liz and Mark's Satellite Love-In Sky Wars Kick off This Week with the Launch of Rupert Murdoch's Digital Television Service - but the Competition Will Be Tough, So Sky's Bosses Are Welcoming All the Digital Media Friends They Can Get, and One of Them, at Least, Is a Rather Surprising Choice
Robins, Jane, The Independent (London, England)
Mark Booth and Elisabeth Murdoch are on a mission to change the television habits of Britain. The task would be daunting enough for anyone, but these two are American - and if they are to succeed they not only need to understand British culture very quickly; they also need to change it.
Booth is the boss of BSkyB and Murdoch, daughter of Rupert, runs its Sky Networks division. Together they are in the business of persuading us that the age of television as a force of national cohesion is over: that we no longer wish to sit down all together on a Monday night to watch EastEnders, and that, instead, we are ready to embrace a world of hundreds of channels. In fact, they want Britain to overtake America as the world's most sophisticated provider of digital television - and "the project" starts this Thursday, with the launch of Sky Digital.
But they have a problem with the Sky brand. A decade ago, the company brought multi-channel television to Britain by selling ugly great satellite dishes door-to-door on housing estates, and delivering television that was cheap and largely poor quality. The consequence has been a strong class division over satellite, with the middle classes still sniffy about dishes. So far, fewer than a third of British homes have gone multi-channel.
Booth and Murdoch are acutely aware that Sky's appeal needs to move out of the council estates, and into the leafy suburbs. The company needs to shed its image as a service for football fanatics, and become attractive to everyone.
It makes sense, then, that both Sky executives have recently taken to praising the BBC, perhaps hoping that some of its blue-chip brand image will rub off - that Sky will gain credibility by association.
Rupert Murdoch's Sun may lambast the Beeb, and call for an end to the licence fee. But Sky television, in which he also has a controlling interest, has lately become the Corporation's best friend.
"The BBC's endorsement of digital says to Middle England that this is good," says Booth. "And the BBC is better today than it has ever been. Its sports, comedies and documentaries are better than ever."
Anyone who buys Sky Digital on 1 October will immediately recognise the status of the BBC on the system. BBC1 and BBC2 are the first two channels on the Electronic Programme Guide, which provides the gateway to the 75 television channels, 48 pay-per-view channels, and 44 audio channels which are up and running already.
Murdoch looks perplexed at the suggestion that Sky might be trying to hijack some of the BBC's brand image for itself. You imagine that she's dying to say "as if", and would do so if the interview were being conducted in California rather than at Sky's HQ in a grim industrial park somewhere off the M4.
"We're very impressed with their vision," she says. "It is very genuine."
But her pride at having lured Barry Norman, the veteran film critic, away from the BBC, is evident. She has put his programme in a prime-time slot on Sky1, and he's already securing as many viewers as he was in his late-night programme at the Beeb - around 300,000. The message can be read in one of two ways - either that BBC presenters can help push Sky's image upmarket, or that the BBC is still so far ahead of Sky in quality terms that its late-night cast-offs are Sky's stars.
A second difficulty for the Sky digital team is the widespread hostility to Rupert Murdoch, which was so prominent during the takeover bid for Manchester United. Would it be …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Media: Liz and Mark's Satellite Love-In Sky Wars Kick off This Week with the Launch of Rupert Murdoch's Digital Television Service - but the Competition Will Be Tough, So Sky's Bosses Are Welcoming All the Digital Media Friends They Can Get, and One of Them, at Least, Is a Rather Surprising Choice. Contributors: Robins, Jane - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: September 29, 1998. Page number: 14. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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