The Sky’s Not The Limit: Higher Prices For the UK’s Movie Channel Viewers:

If by chance you haven’t yet seen the film “Love Actually” (made in 2003 with Hugh Grant as British Prime Minister) don’t worry. It will almost certainly be shown on Sky Movies this week, the next one and indeed indefinitely. The same applies to the many other productions which appear with unerring regularity on Sky Movies’ “Thriller”, “Great Brits”, “Premiere” and “Select” channels – among them “Four Weddings and a Funeral”(1994), “Batman Begins”(2005), the “Die Hard”, “Mission Impossible” and “Bridget Jones” series, “Titanic” (1997) and even “Zulu” (1964) & “Alfie”(1966), both starring Michael Caine.

You can’t of course, watch them (or any of the others) free of charge. Starting on 1st June, Sky has increased the charges for almost all its “packages”. As the “Daily Mail” journalists Sean Poulter and Peter Campbell noted on March 19th, both current and prospective subscribers will now have to pay £36 per month for the “Family Bundle”(an extra £3), £30 pm (£2 more) for the “Variety Bundle” (which includes documentaries, Eurosport, Sky Sports, children’s programmes, music from MTV ) and £34 pm month for the Sky Sports and Movies combination (£1.50 more).

The fee for the “Original Bundle” (described by Sky as its “basic pack”) remains at £21 pm – but viewers must have that one in order to sign up for any of the others. So that means that anyone who wants to watch just Sky Sports & Movies is obliged to commit themselves to at least £64 pm. On top of that, recently released films – such as “American Sniper” with Bradley Cooper – can only be accessed on “Sky Box Office” for an additional fee of approximately £5 each time.

The reaction of bloggers on websites such as “Toluma.com” to Sky’s pricing policies has been scathing. The response, for example, by “Firefly1984” to “Angelamac1’s query as to why so many films are repeated every week was that it enables Sky to “simply pay the rights to fewer movies, so their profits remain high”.

Both “The Guardian” and the “Daily Mail” have attributed the price rises (usually introduced in September) to the £4.2 billion that Sky has agreed to pay to show “126 live English Premier League matches each season from 2016 – 2019, which equates to £11 million per game”. According to media analysts “Liberum” (quoted by The Guardian), this new expenditure will in effect be subsidized by “non-sports-watching families”.

Furthermore, it’s the viewers (assert the Daily Mail journalists) “who will be funding not only the Ferraris, Lamborghinis and £200,000+ a week contracts of players such as Wayne Rooney, Yaya Toure, Eden Hazard and Radamel Falcao” but also Sky’s attempts to “recoup the huge sums which they will have to pay to super-rich clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City” In the opinion of “Enquirer Meridien” on the Mail website: “The money in soccer has ruined the game. Premier League fans don’t support a local club any more, but a brand. They may as well go out and shout for Coca Cola”.

The Daily Mail has pointed out that Sky now faces two immediate problems. Their increased prices “could drive millions of people to switch to cheaper suppliers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, both of which charge under £7 a month”. Secondly, viewers are being required “to pay more for less”. On June 11th, BT gleefully e-mailed its broadband customers to inform them that, from August 2015, BT Sport Europe will be the only place they’ll be able to watch the UEFA Champions & Europa Leagues live.

As the London Evening Standard’s Consumer Business Editor, John Prynn, noted on 9th June, BT “has snatched these two competitions from Sky and ITV”, paying £897 million for the exclusive right to broadcast 351 European football games for the next three seasons. During that period, therefore, “European football will disappear from mainstream terrestrial TV” – an outcome, The Guardian’s Juliette Garside observed on 10th June, that has been greeted “with dismay” by many fans.

To assuage such concerns, BT has promised to show “12 Champions League and 14 Europa League matches on Freeview and provide at least one free broadcast for every participating English team” – still far fewer than the 42 Champions League matches until now transmitted each season on ITV.

The three million BT customers who already take the company’s TV packages through its broadband service or Virgin cable (reports Jonathan Prynn) will obtain all the European games free. However, “the two million viewers who access BT Sport through their Sky satellite subscriptions or BT Sports App will have to pay £5 pm extra”.

Sky, it seems. is trying to console itself for its loss by claiming that “TV audiences for the UEFA competitions have fallen by 38% over the past five years”. The question remains, nonetheless, as to whether it’s really worthwhile continuing to pay for movie channels featuring constant repeats and a sports package that no longer includes Europe’s most prestigious fixtures.

Filed under: Media, Sports | Posted on June 16th, 2015 by Colin D Gordon

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