Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Competition Commission role in BSkyB and other regulatory matters

The Murdochs have done the only sensible thing - take media pluralism out of the hands of their politicians, who had become liabilities due to public anger, and into the hands of the non-pluralism experts at the Competition Commission (following an earlier stab at it by the Office of Fair Trading), who nevertheless had slapped Sky's wrists and forced them to reduce their ITV shareholding four years ago.
What will they investigate in terms of plurality? Well, if you look at Appendix I (yes, the ninth appendix!) of that report, which was much more broad than this (in as far as we know about this one, the terms are late being published), then they were concerned with Ofcom and others' evidence on news consumption. Note that they looked at the TGI survey which overstated Sky News' importance - it is a minor and little-watched channel in truth - as well as the overall Ofcom figures which showed that a steady 65% of the population uses TV to watch news, and 6% use the Internet - though the latter had trebled in 4 years to 2006.
Let's extrapolate forwards - if Internet use for news has grown at the same rate, which Twitter may suggest but which a maturing market may argue against, then in 2012 up to 30% of the population might rely on the Internet first. While that is unlikely, it does appear quite likely that the Internet - and its newspaper and broadcast sites - is now the second-largest medium at over 15%, with a real long-term decline in TV reliance.
What does that mean for the Competition Commission? It means they should not ignore net neutrality in their inquiry - Sky should be required to not throttle alternative video and text-based news outlets for a lengthy (say ten-year) period after News Corporation taking over. That is much more important than empty gesture politics such as that which will take place tomorrow.
As the Conservatives except for Jeremy Hunt will now vote that it is against the public interest for Murdoch to be allowed to own BSkyB, does that mean that after 8 months the Competition Commission recommendations to Hunt will then be rejected by him? Or will he gamble that by summer 2012 the public will have stopped caring?

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