Picnic hampered 

13 May 2008 tbs.pm/898

BSkyB’s digital terrestrial pay-TV plans on hold

BSkyB’s planned digital terrestrial pay-TV service known as Picnic – something that most people outside of Sky had probably forgotten about by now – has been delayed yet again by Ofcom, although Ofcom probably knew the ramifications of its final decision long before this delay was made public which in turn makes it seem a little suspicious.

An extra year’s delay is bad news for all the staff that have already been employed by BSkyB for the Picnic service, but at least it shows that Ofcom won’t be blackmailed into a quick decision by BSkyB’s aggressive tactics. It also means that Sky misses out on another football season to promote Picnic against Setanta’s terrestral pay-TV offering.

Having said that, Picnic won’t solve the dilemma of die-hard football fans having to have two subscriptions to watch all the available Premiership football matches, but that’s the price paid for avoiding a monopoly and at the same time not having access to matches on a a pay-per-view basis.

On the bright side, the extra delay could give Sky time to reengineer the Picnic set top boxes to include support for the four new high definition Freeview channels which are initially scheduled to launch in the Granada area with the region’s digital switchover next year. Which means extra expense for Sky but there could be a penalty for not doing so.

As the digital switchover draws ever closer, four new HD channels could end up proving to be a greater lure to some than four standard definition pay-TV channels unless some sport/a few movies/Gladiators proves to be an irresistible draw.

Plus there’s now Freesat being actively promoted for those wanting more channel choice without a subscription, and the launch of Sky’s Picnic so close to the analogue terrestrial TV switchoff in some regions may just serve to further confuse people who are undecided as to what form of digital TV to go for.

In some respects Sky’s Picnic could theoretically have been an expensive psychological hoax in a similar fashion to BSkyB buying some shares in ITV in order to deter Virgin Media (and others) from buying ITV; the very presence of Picnic was enough to spook Setanta and others into lodging complaints against the proposed service.

Then there’s the simple matter of whether one company ought to be allowed to have a form of digital terrestrial pay-TV as well as controlling the only significant satellite pay-TV service available in the UK. If there was a totally unregulated market this wouldn’t be an issue, but UK and European Union regulations come into play at this point.

BSkyB probably knows these competition regulations off by heart and its legal department would no doubt have advised on Picnic’s chances of being approved, so it knows full well what the outcome was likely to be and the prospects of a delay affecting the proposal.

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Tuesday 21 September 2021