So, you woke up yesterday andfrom your channel line-up. Did you weep for the loss of Lost, or blubber over Battlestar Galactica? If you did, I understand, it's hard having to rely on Rupert Murdoch for your entertainment needs: just ask football fans.
What makes the loss of Sky One so painful is the fact that much of this content is tied up in exclusive deals. In television there are several kinds of packages that broadcasters can buy from American networks. They can have either pay-TV rights or free to air. Traditionally these were sold separately, and Sky would pick up the pay-TV rights, and another broadcaster would take the free-to-air package.
This is what happens with The Simpsons at the moment. Sky shows the first run, and millions of repeats. Then, a thousand years later, Channel 4 shows the episodes. Since then, some broadcasters have bought both sets of rights. Indeed, Channel 4 has done this with Desperate Housewives, and before Sky outbid it, Lost.
You might remember a few years ago Sky bought all the rights for 24, meaning the BBC could no longer show the series. Fans of the show were outraged, Internet petitions were arranged, but ultimately Sky had the bigger bank balance and prevailed. It also promised that eventually 24 would be shown on Sky Three, which is their free channel available on Freeview. But who wants to wait months for some crumbs from Sky's table?
So was Virgin right to stop negotiating with Sky? I think yes, and here's why: although it's painful to lose some of the programmes, Murdoch has gone unchallenged for too long. Sky has bought up every major sporting event it's been allowed to, and it charges punters through the nose to watch them. Do we really want the same to be true about other entertainment TV?
What's more, the actual loss to customers is fairly minimal. Many of the popular shows on Sky One are shown elsewhere at some point. Lost, for example, will still be available on Virgin Central, with season three -- the most recent -- available from the summer. The Simpsons is on Channel 4 on a regular basis and the best new TV show this year, Heroes, will be shown on the Sci-Fi channel first, then on BBC Two later on in the year.
If we're lucky, this whole debate will be meaningless in a few years anyway. As the demand for programmes increases, I'm certain we'll see legitimate paid-for Internet downloads become more common. For example, when Apple TV launches in the UK, I'm sure we'll see iTunes selling TV shows, in the way it does in the US at the moment. What could be better than settling down to watch an episode of Lost or 24 in high definition, when it suits you? The media centre, be it Apple TV, the Xbox 360 or Media Center PC could easily spoil the party for both Sky and Virgin in the future -- which is why Sky is getting into broadband now, before it's too late.
I honestly believe in a few years you'll be buying your shows direct from the people who make them and not wasting time and money faffing about with subscription TV services. -Ian Morris