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Matthew Sinclair: Have we wound up with the worst possible resolution of the BSkyB-News Corp deal?

by Matthew Sinclair

The UK's print and TV news markets are clearly very different.  The print news market is extremely competitive and products are highly differentiated in order to compete and find a niche in the market.  The TV news market has only a few providers, and thanks to regulation there is a very limited set of ways they can differentiate their product.

Sky News and BBC News are different, but those differences are pretty subtle compared to the gulf between any two of the Mail, Sun, Mirror, Telegraph, Times, Guardian or Financial Times.  Channel 4 and ITV's news broadcasts also look quite a lot like the headline broadcasts produced by the BBC.  That isn't the broadcasters' fault.  The market is much more closely regulated.

With that in mind, wouldn't the absolute priority - in responding to a proposed tie up of BSkyB and News Corp - be to maximise the number of strong competitors in the TV news market?  If that was your priority, wouldn't spinning off Sky News so it has a less reliable cross subsidy from the rest of BSkyB and/or News Corp be the worst possible result in terms of media diversity?  It would weaken a key competitor in the least diverse section of the news media.  Undermine competition that should be keeping the BBC on its toes.

If Sky News is separated from the rest of BSkyB, even if it enjoys some kind of temporary assistance, then it has to be able to differentiate itself properly.  Deregulating TV news so that we can get the kind of diverse offerings we do in the print media, even if there will still be formidable barriers to entry, would go from being a good idea to an absolute essential.  Otherwise it is easy to imagine that in just over a decade Britain will only have one mainstream 24 hour TV news channel.  For all that the reach of new media is growing, that would be a pretty dismal prospect.


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