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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 12:14 GMT
Touch down for Sky
Sky News
Sky News: Long search for new outlets
As BSkyB begins its provision of breakfast news for Channel 5 BBC News Online's Darren Waters looks at a broadcasting niche undergoing great change.

A 30-minute slot on Channel 5 breakfast television may not sound like much of a breakthrough but it is a significant step for Sky News.

Sir Trevor McDonald
ITN has been forced to cut jobs
From Monday Sky News' Sunrise programme will simulcast on Channel 5 weekdays from 0600, replacing news which was provided by ITN.

Sky News, like BBC News 24 and ITN News Channel, is a 24-hour news channel, often described as rolling news.

Maggie Brown, media writer for The Guardian, said: "Sky have been pushing all the time to have some access to terrestrial television.

"They are continually on the prowl.

"Sky have been bidding for most of the contracts whenever they have come up - most famously the ITV contract."


A spokesman for Sky News said: "This is obviously an opportunity for Sky News to be seen by a wider audience. Already over 5 million people watch Sky News in the UK alone on multi-channel TV."

Sky News pushed ITN hard in the recent battle to provide news services to ITV, but as on five previous occasions when the two broadcasters clashed over a contract it failed to win.

Cost of rolling news
BBC News 24 48m
ITN News Channel 10m
Sky News 35m

ITN won but only after reducing its charges to ITV, forcing job cuts.

But the broadcaster remains confident it can continue to provide the same level of service.

The reason Sky News is interested in broadening its exposure is two-fold, explained Brown.

"The big problem with rolling news channels is that they have tiny audiences.


"And it is very hard to make profit from news. Sky News have only just broken even and they launched in 1989.

All the channels proved their worth during 11 September. We had the experience with rolling news

Rachel Attwell, deputy head of BBC television news
"They are always looking at spreading the cost of their services over as many outlets as they possibly can."

The tragic events of 11 September in the US gave rolling news channels, including BBC News 24 and Sky News, a chance to show how crucial their services can be.

BBC One streamed live coverage of events straight from BBC News 24 and, to many people, justified the huge costs involved in running such channels.

Sky has long complained about the BBC's use of licence fee money to fund BBC News 24.


As part of its charter the BBC provides a service to outlets such as cable networks for free, which Sky News needs to charge for in order to recoup its costs.

"If news is not public service broadcasting then what is?" said Rachel Attwell, the BBC's deputy head of television news.

"News makes the BBC what it is," she added.

"More and more we are seeing aggressive niche broadcasting and news is a very obvious niche," said Brown.

The audiences for rolling news remain small but that is true of most channels in multi-channel homes.

"News on demand is a feature in multi-channel homes. People do not want to wait for the news," said Attwell.

She added: "All the channels proved their worth during 11 September. We had the experience with rolling news."

But Brown added: "The jury is still out on ITN's rolling news channel. My understanding is that they are going to rebrand it as ITV rolling news."

But a spokesman for ITN said the news channel had been very successful.


He said: "The ITN news channel is already the most best distributed news service in the UK and it remains our objective to achieve as wide a distribution as possible."

The ITN News Channel is more popular than Sky News in cable homes and neck and neck with BBC News 24 in digital satellite homes.

ITN will not comment on their plans for the news channel but if indeed it does rebrand then Channel 5's decision to take Sky News seem more expedient.

Channel 5 would be unable to use a news service so closely allied and branded to one of its main competitors, it would clearly be unable to use BBC News and so only Sky News, which is not a terrestrial rival, remains.

Longer term

Brown said: "When Sky won the contract Channel 5 rushed out a statement saying that it did not affect their ITN news contract.

"Certainly that is the case in the short but in the longer term who knows?"

Sky has said it will continue to monitor the situation.

"Obviously bids will be considered on a case by case basis but Sky News is a commercial operator.

"Deals such as that with Channel 5, and as a supplier of news in the new Channel 4 breakfast show contract demonstrate its growing reputation as a versatile news provider," said a Sky News spokesman, highlighting the broadcaster's ambitions.

Charting its past, present and digital future
See also:

08 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
ITV signs ITN for six years
24 Dec 01 | TV and Radio
BBC claims news ratings victory
13 Dec 01 | TV and Radio
ITN accepts voluntary redundancies
23 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Sky battles ITN for news contract
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