BBC may lose local listing on BSkyB



Programme guide row puts viewers' access at risk

The BBC has admitted for the first time that it may not be able to force BSkyB to carry all its regional services at the top of its electronic programme access guide.

In a briefing note prepared for the House of Lords, it concedes that BSkyB could legally consign the regional services to obscure parts of its on-screen channel menu, making them more difficult for viewers to find.

It is an indication that the BBC did not appreciate the consequences of its decision this month not to renew its conditional access deal with BSkyB, which enabled regional variations of BBC1 and BBC2 to be broadcast on channels 101 and 102.

The pay-TV group is threatening to remove the BBC from 101 and 102 unless it signs a new access contract.

When it announced the end of the conditional access deal, the BBC said it would "continue to argue for clarification ... that 'due prominence' ... means making the right regional service available via slots 101 and 102".

But in a note to peers for the second reading of the communications bill in the Lords on Tuesday, which has been seen by the Guardian, it appeared to concede that "due prominence" does not extend to the provision of regional variations. "The current EPG regulations do not guarantee that viewers should be able to access the right regional version of the public service channels provided for them, where they would expect to find them on the EPG."

The corporation is in discussions with BSkyB to solve the problems created by the decision to end the conditional access deal, which it claims will save £85m over five years. The BBC has given BSkyB until Monday to provide a timetable on how to move forward.

It is prepared to pay BSkyB a "reasonable" price to develop software that would enable regional services to be shown on 101 and 102 while allowing Irish state broadcaster RTE to retain its slots on 101 and 102.

The BBC will broadcast its digital channels from the Astra 2D satellite from the end of May but the 2D footprint extends into Ireland, endangering RTE's position on the EPG.

If BSkyB refuses to cooperate, the BBC will appeal to the independent television commission. BSkyB argues that the BBC is attempting to use the "due prominence" rules to get, in effect, a free conditional access deal. The corporation says it is entitled to the slots and dismisses the "Irish problem".

However, BSkyB and its formidable lobbying team are determined to fight any ammendment to the communications bill that might force it to put the BBC's regional services on 101 and 102 without paying for a conditional access deal.

"If they get in law that they are entitled to a regional service at 101, that would contradict the legal requirement to offer access to the network on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms," said a BSkyB source.

"We would have to supply conditional access technology to them for free - and to nobody else."

Source; The Guardian