LIFE AFTER THE DUOPOLY
Next year sees the end of one of publishing's most glaring anachronisms. Under the forthcoming Broadcasting Act, the Radio Times and TV Times will no longer have exclusive access to weekly TV listings publication.
Despite the Radio and TV Times' desperate fight to hold on the their money-spinning duopoly, intense pressure from the lobby groups of rival publishers has won through.
The final nail was tapped into the duopoly coffin last month when the Government announced that March 1, 1991 will be the day the market breaks free.
It will create a peculiar publishing situation. Most successful markets start out small and grow swiftly. This one is already huge: it is that other major publishers can now leap in heap first.
All the publishers of newspapers and magazines who have lobbied for change can now plan their offerings. TV listing is the hook on which they can hang a whole new range of magazines, and judging from present indications, almost everyone will have some sort of crack at the market.
The national papers will be there because they feel they have to be. So do major entertainment title publisher such as Time Out and EMAP and title such as Hello!, and of course, Rupert Murdoch's TV Guide. Almost all, it seems, believe their titles can benefit from comprehensive listings.
A happy ending to a successful campaign? Hardly. The debate could become even more vitriolic this year.
The issue appears simple enough. Until now, BBC Enterprises with the Radio Times, and IPC magazines which bought TV Times at the end of 1988, have controlled all access to the publication of TV schedules. Between them they publish nearly six million copies a week, free from competition, Now, everyone gets the same statutory rights of access to listings.
Or almost. There are two main gripes which won't go away. The first is that even after March 1, the BBC and IPC will continue to get disguised revenue benefits from advertising slots for their magazines which they don't pay for. Rivals estimate that when TV Times comes spinning out of the television at you during the Coronation Street ad break, IPC is gaining free publicity worth about 500,000 [pounds] a week, or 75m [pounds] over three years.
The second gripe is more contentious. The Broadcasting Bill acknowledges the BBC's and IPC's claim to copyright interest by giving them a right to licence out the information. The two groups "may" charge for the information - and they undoubtedly will. The fear is that excessive charges simply allow the groups to run the same dual monopoly by a different name and make even more money out of the information than they already do.
Tony Elliot, the publisher of Time Out Publications, stepped into the listings arena a decade ago, when he was accused in court of publishing total listing without authorisation. He was found to have infringed copyright.
Since then he has campaigned for the shake up; most recently through the TV Listings Campaign which is made up of national newspaper groups and a hotch potch of differing magazine groups with vested interests in seeing change.
He has argued against the imposition of anything other than a nominal license fee to cover administration costs. "In the long-term it is sensible for the TV companies not a charge us because they need publicity for their listings. However, the situation is made absurd by the fact that IPC, which controls 40% of the UK magazine market, can impose fees. There could be some quite violent discussions, because if the BBC and IPC fight for exploitative charges, every publisher will resist." The intentions of IPC and the BBC are not yet clear, though both stress that they intend to be compensated for the loss of exclusive property rights.
Dr. John Thomas, chief executive of BBC Enterprises, is adamant that some form of fee should be demanded: "Fair charges will be arrived at by free negotiation between supplier and receiver in the open market. …