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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sky: More Cunning than a Fox

OFCOM announced the Sky DTT investigation this morning – there were two surprises and an element of shame:

The first surprise is that Sky has convinced National Grid Wireless (NGW) to come on board. Although largely unknown to the general public, National Grid Wireless is a key stakeholder in the UK communications industry. Basically, once the Macquarie merger with Arquiva gets the go ahead the combined NGW/Arquiva is the monopoly supplier of transmission sites and engineering services to the whole of the UK Broadcast industry with huge contracts for DTT transmission until 2025-2030. More importantly, it also owns leases for 33% of the UK DTT Spectrum.

Both Sky and NGW own 20% each in the DTT marketing venture, Freeview. The other 20% shareholders being ITV, C4 and the BBC. If Sky makes ITV an offer they can't refuse to come aboard the Sky/NGW DTT payTV train, then the majority of the Freeview shareholders will be in favour of DTT PayTV and this would be a killer consortium.

Top-Up TV and Setanta can whinge as much as they want to OFCOM, but basically they have zero rights to become a monopoly provider of a PayTV platform. BT and Tiscali will be in an even worse position than Top-Up TV & Setanta not even owning any spectrum.

In addition another complaint about the use of MPEG-4 technology has been taken out of the equation, because both Sky/NGW have said they will not use it initially.

The element of shame is that OFCOM will not start the consultation until the autumn and the consultation is due to last 10 weeks. Clearly this is anti-competitive and gives TopUpTV/Setanta a unfair head start in launching subscription services for the next Premier League season. If I was Sky/NGW, I would seek an injunction on the TopUpTV/Setanta product to prevent launch until the OFCOM consultation is completed.

I look forward to reading the responses in the fullness of time, but they won’t change anything – basically yet again Sky has yet again outsmarted the rest of the TV industry.