London -- Ears may have perked last month, when British Sky
Broadcasting managing director Elisabeth Murdoch promised better carriage deals for
operators, but U.K. cable officials digesting the new offer said there's little
substance to her vow.
"We've looked at Sky's new rate card, and
there is little in it," one Telewest Communications insider said, asking not to be
Murdoch tantalized the industry at last month's
European Cable Communications '98 show here by saying that Sky would offer operators
better rates on its channels.
U.K. MSOs have long struggled to keep their prices low amid
the high rates that Sky charges them to carry its channels, which are the most popular
ones in Britain.
Phil Kirby, public-policy director at NTL CableTel, another
leading U.K. MSO, acknowledged that Sky's new rate card was very much "a work in
progress." However, "what Sky is offering is no better" than what NTL has
now, he said, after reviewing the numbers. "She has dressed it up a bit, but she
overstates its commercial significance."
MSO Cable & Wireless Communications plc took a somewhat
softer line. Roy Payne, CWC's senior public-affairs spokesman, said Murdoch's
announcements appeared to represent a major shift in Sky's position.
"It is good that Sky seems to at last recognize that
it is vital to work with cable, and not against it," Payne said.
Sky declined to comment on the lukewarm reaction to its new
offer, and it would not give any more specific details on what the new rate card will
contain. Even the British MSOs said they were still waiting for more concrete details of
the plans, and some felt that Murdoch jumped the gun by discussing it publicly before
formally presenting it to the operators.