Mark's Musings

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Apropos the continuing furore over the late Jimmy Savile and the definitely not late Stuart Hall, the names of Andy Grey and Richard Keys sprang to mind.

In case you’d forgotten (or the whole case had passed you by to begin with), Grey and Keys were the megastar presenters of Sky Sports’ football coverage. Unfortunately for them, they were caught on tape making distinctly sexist remarks about a female referee, and Grey then compounded that by jokingly asking a female Sky presenter to tuck his shirt in for him in a way that had clear sexual overtones.

As offences go, that probably rates no more than a 1 or 2 on the Savile-Hall scale (where Savile himself defined the meaning of 10 and Hall was somewhere around 7). Nonetheless, Sky didn’t see the funny side and sacked the pair of them.

So why are they relevant? Well, when it’s becoming increasingly clear that the BBC has a long-standing problem with abuse perpetrated by its senior stars, then the questions of how and why obviously need to be asked.

Sky sacked Grey and Keys because they had become a commercial liability. Despite being established stars who were, at least up to that point, very popular with their audience, they crossed a line where that was no longer enough. It’s also notable that Sky made no attempt to cover up their misbehaviour. The BBC, on the other hand, seems to have had an institutional reluctance to expose its star players to public scrutiny in a way which might damage their appeal.

So, what is the difference? Why should a commercial broadcaster (mostly owned, let’s not forget, by popular hate figure Rupert Murdoch) act more honourably than the great cultural institution which is the BBC?

I can’t answer that for certain. In any case, it’s likely that there are all sorts of different internal motivations, pressures and traditions which created that difference in culture. But, even so, I can’t help thinking that at least part of it is due to the unique way in which the BBC is funded.

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  • Simon Farnsworth

    I think you’re right that it’s about funding, but I’d argue that it’s more about the way in which Sky Sports is funded.

    There is a perception (right or wrong doesn’t matter here – and I’ve not looked at BSkyB’s accounts to check whether it reflects reality) that Sky subscriptions predominately fund Sky Sports, regardless of whether you take the sports channels or not.

    Specifically, the large sums of money spent on sporting rights by Sky, contrasted against the £12.50 or so a month spent to get all BBC channels plus all the advertising supported channels has people believing that the £21.50/month for the base Sky Entertainment pack (whose 35 extra channels over the 80 you can get without paying Sky all include some advertising) is set to partly cover the costs of Sky Sports, and the extra £21/month for the 6 Sky Sports is an understatement of the costs.

    Given this perception and the numbers I’ve presented (£12.50 based on telling me that an annual license is £145.50, Sky costs and all channel counts from Sky’s website), it’s easy for a protest group to suggest that all Sky subscribers are subsidising Sky Sports; Sky therefore can’t afford anything that might start such a protest group going.

    • MarkSG

      That perception is almost certainly true. Another useful comparison point is the £9 a month for three ESPN channels, the majority of which carry content that is essentially free (because it’s either repeats, or rebroadcast of US material), and which lost out in the bidding to BT Vision for next year’s non-Sky Premiership rights. If £9 a month isn’t enough to sustain what really amounts to one and a half channel’s worth of content, then it’s doubtful if £21 a month is enough to sustain six (most of which, by contrast with ESPN, is original and live). So the money must be coming from somewhere else.

      That said, my real point is that a commercial channel is far more vulnerable to a consumer backlash than the BBC.