The man from Sky came knocking on my door a while back, wanting to know why I don’t have Sky. Simple, I told him. I don’t want Sky. There followed a longer than necessary conversation – as far as I was concerned the conversation ended as soon as I saw his Sky ID badge – which mainly comprised of him saying ‘you don’t have Sky’ and me saying ‘I don’t want it’.
Eventually I just closed the front door in his face, though not before he’d made some ill-judged assumptions about both my entertainment choices and my lifestyle.
I don’t have Sky for a couple of very simple reasons. Firstly, I believe quite strongly that Rupert Murdoch is The Devil Incarnate. One day he will die when the spirit of evil currently occupying his body finally wears it out through exhaustion with the sheer weight of its malevolence. It will then gust out from every wrinkly orifice in a cloud of luminous grey and choose a new fleshsuit - James, Elizabeth, Lachlan, Wendi, whoever the hell, I don’t care, the same feeling of repulsion and disgust I feel for Rupert will apply undiminished for this new host.
Secondly, what kind of idiot do you think I am?
I don’t watch television a great deal. I don’t have it on in the corner all the time as some folk do. It gets turned on when there’s something on that I want to watch, and it gets turned off again immediately afterwards. What I do watch is generally on the BBC and generally either on BBC2 or BBC4. This isn’t snobbery, it’s just how it falls. I’ve never missed an episode of Desperate Housewives, so don’t go throwing accusations of elitism at me, sonny.
The BBC is funded by the licence fee, or rather it isn’t. This is a popular misconception. The roads aren’t funded by Vehicle Licence Tax, more commonly called Road Tax, and the BBC isn’t funded by the licence fee. The licence fee is actually exactly what it states it is; a fee which grants a licence to possess equipment which is capable of receiving a television signal regardless of that signal’s origin. It isn’t a hypothecated tax dedicated to funding the BBC. So you can doctor your set as much as you like, you can scream blue murder about only ever watching ITV or C4, it will do you no good. You want to watch telly, you pay the licence fee. If you only ever watch DVDs or play games on your TV, you can escape the licence fee. Good luck with that.
Whatever: I pay a licence fee, it pays for the BBC. In return I get four TV channels and a great big bundle of radio stations, most of which carry the kind of programming that I like. And best of all, there is no advertising. There may be promos for other BBC stuff, but it only hits the screen/speaker between programmes, it doesn’t interrupt the dramatic flow or butt in during a long debate on Question Time.
Alternately I can watch one of the commercial channels, which is unlikely unless it’s Wednesday night and Desperate Housewives is on. If I watch a commercial channel I understand that, as these are funded by advertising revenue, I shall have to watch advertisements. I shall have to watch way too many advertisements for my liking; about a quarter of each hour of commercial airtime is taken up with relentless shilling, most of it humourless, badly-dubbed and more than slightly insulting. These advertisements will disrupt the programme’s narrative flow, which is in turn structured entirely as twelve-to-fifteen-minute blocks so as to accommodate advertising breaks.
“Ah!” says somebody with far more patience for this than I, “You don’t pay anything for your ITV or your C4 or Channel 5 and that, do you? Aren’t the ads a fair swap for not paying owt?”
Yes. They are.
If that was the case.
But as everything I buy carries a premium of some sort which finances that product’s marketing, I’m paying indirectly for commercial television whether I want to or not, and that strikes me as being way more unfair than being forced to pay a licence fee.
One day, somebody will figure out a way to link together the data-mining potential of store loyalty cards with the media-consumption pattern of the individual consumer, which will enable Heinz to say to Sainsbury’s “Look, that guy buys our ketchup but he never watches the shows we advertise it in. Give him a few pence off, it’s only fair.”
Except whoever devises that will not return home that night, and will never be seen again.
And let’s not, for now, go into whether the need to raise revenue through advertising creates the need to deliver large audiences which leads to the blanderisation of programming. Take any person who believes this to be untrue, strap them to a chair, make them listen to Capital Radio, or Heart FM, or Galaxy, for a couple of hours or until their brain oozes out of their ears, whichever is the sooner.
See what they think then.
So: there’s the BBC on the one hand, and ITV/C4/C5 on the other, and then – and then – there’s Sky.
Which carries advertising. In fact, as a non-terrestrial broadcaster it can carry a damn sight more advertising than ITV/C4/C5 can – up to 12 minutes per hour plus as many trailers or promos for its own programming that it needs to show to fill up the hour of airtime that carries a 42-minute programme. The same applies to the ITV2/3/4/E4/More4/FiveUSA sub-channels and all the other Freeview channels.
And not only does it carry advertising, it charges a subscription fee. So you pay for it twice over. And you pay for it at a rate that makes the licence fee’s £145 a year look like an absolute steal. The basic Variety pack sets you back £19.50 a month. £234 a year. That’s the basic pack; no bells, no whistles.
One of the Sky man’s arguments is that with Sky you only pay for the channels you want to watch. Hogwash, sir! Bullhockey of the highest order! If I want to watch Sky Arts, I have to have it as part of a package that includes several other channels I have no care for. If I want to watch a football match I have to have a full year’s worth of Sky Sports. That’s not menu-pricing. That’s force-feeding. That’s having to eat Big Macs for a year when all you wanted was a quick cheeseburger to tide you over ‘til dinnertime.
And besides, if I want to watch a football match I’ll go to the pub. At least then I can walk out with ten minutes to go and no remorse.
So really, what the man from Sky wants me to do, every time he knocks on my door, is for me to invite him in, sit him down, and nod my head while he gets me to sign up for the televisual equivalent of an endless semi-consensual wade through untreated sewage.
Anyway, that’s enough. I have to go and find out what’s going on with Susan Delfino’s kidney.