Thompson urges U.K. nets to seek retrans fees

BBC director general spoke at MacTaggart memorial lecture

LONDON -- BBC director general Mark Thompson Friday urged British television commercial networks to follow Rupert Murdoch's lead and seek retransmission fees for their content from pay-TV platforms in the U.K.

Delivering the James MacTaggart memorial lecture Friday, Thompson said that by the same logic that Rupert Murdoch's Fox had secured retransmission fees from Time Warner, British networks like Channel 4, ITV and Channel 5 were entitled to a similar levy from the Murdoch-owned satcaster BSkyB.

Such a fee could total in excess of $100 million a year.

Thompson said that by pursuing Murdoch's BSkyB for what would amount to a broadcast levy for carrying such channels as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 on its digital platform, the TV sector here could recoup rump of much-needed cash and use it to boost spend on original British programming.

"The man who made that case is Rupert Murdoch and in America he is winning the argument. Fox is now receiving distribution fees from the cable companies. So why not introduce retransmission fees in this country as well?"

BBC sources said that senior figures at Channel 4, ITV and Five had been consulted on the proposals but the broadcasters themselves would not confirm this.

The argument was, however, shot down by BSkyB, which said it was a diversionary tactic to obscure key issues that Thompson had failed to address in the speech.

"The BBC's supposed 'big idea' is a big sideshow, based on a misunderstanding of the market and a desire to distract attention from the real issues," a spokesman for Sky said.

"There are many legitimate questions over the size, cost and governance of the BBC. The Corporation would be better advised to address the issues in its own backyard instead of advocating a misconceived intervention in the commercial marketplace."

Elsewhere in his speech Thompson warned of further cuts in talent fees and salaries for top executive fees and said the BBC would no longer pay top dollar even for established stars.

"Expect us to reflect a changed market and reduce top talent pay a good deal further as well. Sometimes we will lose established on-air stars as a result. When we do we will replace them with new talent."
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