Net topper launches attack on Murdoch's paybox

BBC topper Mark Thompson has launched a scathing attack on what he claims is the failure of the Rupert Murdoch-owned paybox BSkyB to invest significant coin in U.K. production.

And for starters he wants the satcaster to pay re-transmission fees to the tune of £150 million ($233 million) a year to those British private webs like ITV and Channel 4 that do invest large sums in British shows.

Giving the keynote MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Intl. Television Festival, which bowed Friday, Thompson said none other than Rupert Murdoch had inspired the idea for BSkyB to pay a levy.

“In America Rupert Murdoch is winning the argument — Fox is now receiving distribution fees from the cable companies.

“So why not introduce re-transmission fees in this country as well?”

This mischief-making by the BBC director general marked the latest outbreak of fire in the long-running rivalry between the corporation and the Murdoch organization.

The idea was immediately dismissed by a BSkyB spokesman, who said the pubcaster would be better advised “addressing issues in its own backyard instead of advocating a misconceived intervention in the commercial marketplace.”

A year ago, News Corp. topper and BSkyB chairman James Murdoch had used the MacTaggart lecture to accuse the BBC of mounting a “chilling” land grab as it continued to expand its services.

But in front of an audience of U.K. webheads and programmakers it was now Thompson’s turn to hit back at News Corp.

While acknowledging that “British TV is richer and better today because of BSkyB,” the BBC director general said the paybox needed to help fill the growing investment gap in U.K. production by beefing up the number of local productions it funds.

He said: “It’s time that Sky pulled its weight by investing much, much more in British talent and British content.

“Sky talks of a programming budget in the year to June 2010 of around £1.9 billion ($2.9 billion), of which sports, movies and carriage fees are about £1. 7 billion ($2.6 billion).

“Sky doesn’t declare its original U.K. non-news, non-sport content, but the latest estimate puts it at around £100 million ($155 million), not much more than Channel 5’s.”

Thompson warned that if News Corp.’s attempt to own BSkyB outright — it currently owns 39% of the paybox — succeeds it would lead to a concentration of cross-media ownership — because of Murdoch’s British press interests — that would not be allowed in either the U.S. or Oz.

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