BBC, Sky, media jobs, and Elisabeth Murdoch’s MacTaggart Lecture

It will be fascinating to see whether Elisabeth Murdoch’s MacTaggart lecture  (full text here) signals a glasnost moment in the relationship between BskyB and the BBC. While it is important to note that she is not an executive at either News Corp or BskyB, her company Shine is owned by News Corp, and her membership of the Murdoch clan lends weight to her words – while she has her own views, it is unlikely that she would say anything that she knew would upset her father. Will it also cause any ripples in the media jobs market? Maybe not directly.

Sky’s historical resentment of the BBC is based on its access to audience. Sky has had to fight hard, and invest heavily, to get its 5m homes: it has perceived the BBC as being handed its massive audience on a government-sponsored plate. This antagonism has led to some childish behaviour from both parties, with Sky planting its flag on various specialist areas and crying foul when the BBC refuses to back away.

Historically, Sky’s approach has been similar to the lobbying the BBC has endured from commercial radio stations. For example, the BBC launched the country’s first nationwide sports-orientated station (Radio 5) in 1994, but this didn’t stop Kelvin MacKenzie whingeing on about unfair competition when he launched TalkSPORT five years later. My children display similar behaviour when arguing about who was sitting on the beanbag first.

Liz Murdoch's MacTaggart Lecture

The key to Elisabeth Murdoch’s speech is not her qualified support of the licence fee, nor her distancing from James Murdoch’s false position that “the only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.” The keynote is struck by her comment that “I fear we spend far too much time fighting over crumbs when we should be baking a bigger cake.”

This hints at what my friend Andy Soloman insists on calling “collaboratition” (the collaboration between competitors to promote a common cause). The broadcast industry is facing enough external challenges, and would be better served to work together rather than in-fighting. It is notable that our clients in the tech space typically collaborate very happily with rivals: traditional media needs to get into this mind set.

Of course, while “collaboratition” is rare in the media space, the BBC and Sky have already shown that they can put some of their differences aside. This summer’s glorious multi-channel BBC coverage of the Olympics was not just available on FreeView. Sky also opened up its jealously-guarded bandwidth to accommodate the coverage, allocating the BBC an extra 28 channels. Earlier this year, it was announced that Sky would also make the BBC’s iPlayer available on Sky Anytime+. It would be fascinating to see what developments might come out of future rapprochement.

However, it would be presumptuous to think that Ms Murdoch’s comments are indicative of a greater desire for perestroika within the towers of Isleworth and the Media City. But here’s hoping for a more grown-up approach all round.