Dish of the a

New technology offers the avid couch-potato the chance to surf through literally hundreds of channels. As a new Channel 4 series chronicles the Satellite Wars, Eddie Gibb asks, where will it end?

While British Satellite Broadcasting. a freshly minted Government franchise tucked in its back pocket. was leisurely building a postmodern corporate palace in the shadow of Battersea power station. Rupert Murdoch was doing deals in Luxembourg. well out of reach of UK regulators. In 1989. Murdoch’s Sky channel was on air before 888 had got satellite anywhere near the launchpad.

The story of domestic satellite broadcasting in this country is inextricably linked with Margaret Thatcher‘s free-market fetishes. Former BSB chief executive Anthony Simonds-Goodings remembers pleading with the Prime Minister to interevne in the costly battle with the aggressive Aussie. ‘1 think she thought we were a bit wet,’ he tells media commentator William Shawcross in Channel 4’s Satellite Wars. Less than six months after BSB‘s launch. mounting losses forced the two satellite broadcasters to announce a ‘merger‘. Everyone knew it was a takeover and Murdoch had won.

The broadcasting space race proved the importance oftiming. and though BSB‘s broadcast technolog was superior. Murdoch’s Astra satellite system triumphed because it was cheap. cheerful and. above all, first. (A similar thing had happened in the early 80s with the VHS/Betamax dogfights. Betamax produced a sharper picture. but which video recorders are we all using?)

Five years on. BSkyB has four million subscribers; over three million homes have dishes mounted on

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their roofs. while the remainder receive programmes on cable. By the end of this decade all homes in

= Glasgow and Edinburgh will have access to a cable

delivery system. This means that if a cable operator hasn’t dug up your street yet. it soon will be.

The Government awards licences to single cable operators which give companies a protected monopoly in their area. United Artists. the biggest cable operator in Britain and the franchise holder in Edinburgh. aims to have over 650.000 homes in Scotland connected up by l9‘)8. Cable'l‘el in Glasgow

‘What’s driving cable forward is the telephone rather than the television.’

is also obliged under the terms of its licence to make cable access available to every home.

Dave Rushton. a lecturer at Queen Margaret College. Edinburgh who monitors the development of cable and satellite. points out that much of the growth of cable is linked to the telephone side of the cable package. Cable operators all offer a telephone system which is significantly cheaper than BT or Mercury. On average. over 80 per cent of programmes watched in cable-connected homes are broadcast on the four main terrestrial channels. ‘What's driving cable forward is the telephone rather


Writer and broadcaster William Shawcross referees the Satellite Wars

than the television.‘ he says.

Although Sky subscribers receive the same basic package of channels whether they hook up to cable or install a dish. Rushton predicts that the two systems will eventually start competing on the programmes they offer. Cable. he suggests. will come into its own with interactive television and other services like home banking.

The fibre-optic cables that are being laid have a huge capacity. allowing information to be targeted at small numbers of subscribers. opening up the possibilty of local programming. Satellite. on the other hand. is a more efficient way of reaching a mass audience. ‘I think Murdoch is in a position to start charging cable companies more for relaying his programmes than the customer would pay directly for satellite. provoking a war with the cable operators.‘ says Rushton.

For the moment it looks as ifcable and satellite will grow in parallel. but it seems likely that in time cable operators will become more like remote video rental libraries. allowing viewers ‘dial-a-movie' services. Satellite. meanwhile. would continue to offer pre- programmed television channels which compete head-on with existing BBC and lTV channels. Sale/lire Wars starts on Sunday 26 Mare/i at 9pm on Channel 4.


Swanning about

The dying swan is a vision in a natty little Jasper Conran number. llothing unusual about that. Hiring out a top name designer to kit out your ballet company is all the rage these days. Versace’s done it, Annani’s done it and Conrad’s been doing it for years.


time Scottish Ballet, where he’s been designing some lavish costumes and sets for the current production of Swan Lake.

The chance to film the ‘superbrat’ of the fashion world running up tutus for an army of ballerinas was leapt on by BBC Scotland’s arts documentary, Ex- S. The result? A 40-minute fly-on-the- wall documentary that follows Conran, the ballet company and an almost groupie-like squadron of helpers from tentative first sketches and steps right through to curtain up on the first

Despite Conran’s (probably

year-old fashion guru (son of Terence and Shirley) was happy to perform for the camera. ‘He was a real laugh,’ says Ex-S director Fiona Kelly. ‘He played along with the cameras. At one point he did turn round to the crew and say this is rather a large fly - but it was all in good humour.’

The film does show one moment when the flamboyant Conran’s push for perfection looked like derailing the production schedule after he decided the whole colour scheme had to change - at the dress rehearsal. ‘The whole thing is a race against time,’ says Kelly. (Ellie Carr)

Birmingham Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Berlin Ballet, and now for the second

undeserved) reputation as a brattish designer, the filmmakers found the 32-


Jasper Conran trips and tucks behind the scenes of Scottish Ballet

Ex-S: Styling the Swan is on Tuesday 28 March at 10.20pm on B801 .

The List 24 Mar-6 Apr 1995 75