Ofcom tackles Sky pricing as BT promises a consumer win

Ofcom is set to chop Sky's wholesale pricing of its premium channels, including Sky Sports -- meaning BT Vision and Virgin Media customers will pick up a few points at home

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Ofcom is set to deliver a scything tackle to the pricing of Sky channels, including Sky Sports, for broadcasters. BT Vision and Virgin Media are poised to pass these savings to you, the lucky British consumer, in a consumer victory of Premier League proportions.

BSkyB has both a content side -- channels such as Sky Sports and Sky Movies -- and a broadcast side -- satellite telly. Other broadcasters, such as BT and Virgin, can show Sky channels, but they have to pay Sky to do so. Ofcom reckons Sky is wholesaling its premium channels to competing broadcasters at a price that stops those competitors from undercutting dish-based telly.

And that's exactly what BT is going to do should Ofcom call full-time on Sky's current wholesale pricing. BT Vision customers will be able to watch Sky Sports 1 for £15 per month, down from at least £25. Virgin Media is also expected to slash its prices, meaning Premier League football, Heineken Cup rugby, US Open tennis and Ashes cricket will be cheaper and more widely available than for a decade or more.

Sky retorts that its domination of sporting pay-TV goes hand-in-hand with heavy investment in British sport, which other broadcasters haven't matched. That's a good point, but you can't argue with more consumer choice. We want our Sky TV, and we don't care where we get it.

The Ofcom board meets today, with an announcement expected in March. This could kick off new pricing on Sky Sports ready for the start of the 2010/2011 football season -- that's if Sky don't tie the whole thing up in court. And if the Tories get in next year, we can content ourselves with the thought that the Wikipedia-fixing poshos could be getting a roasting from new-found supporter Rupert Murdoch should Sky take a bath on this score.

Meanwhile, Sky has hatched a plan to gazump Match of the Day, by upgrading the Sky Sports Football Score Centre iPhone app to show Premier League highlights. Users buying a day or month pass will see goals and highlights before Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen have even picked that night's shiny shirts. The upgrade is set to take place sometime "in the next few months", so it could even be before the end of the current season.