The Government has told Sky to axe EPG charges for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 or be forced to do so by law.
Virgin Media, Freeview and Freesat carry the so-called Public Service Channels free of charge, but Sky has been embroiled in a row over the cost of listing them in the Sky Guide.
Now the government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport has backed the public service channels’ campaign for free listings in its wide-ranging report on the communications industry.
Read more about the Sky fees rowConnectivity, Content and Consumers reads: “The Government wants to see zero net charges, where the fees for access to the main platforms and for PSB channels cancel each other out.
“This is not too far removed from the current market position, and recognises the benefits to platforms, the PSBs, and audiences from being able to access award-winning PSB content.
This mirrors the arrangement already in place for PSBs and cable platforms, where no charges are made – an arrangement that we want to see preserved.”
The government also wants the channels to have free access and high prominence in new services such as smart TVs and video services on the web or through apps on smartphones and tablets.
It’s promised to launch a consultation on the subject this autumn, with the possibility of laws to ensure the UK’s free PSB channels maintain their privileged status in return for producing a broad range of high value TV.
“The PSBs must continue to be easily accessible and discoverable by audiences so that they can continue to invest in high quality, UK originated programming,” the report adds.
“We need to look again how the prominence of PSBs can be maintained as viewers move away from standard definition formats, viewing at the time of broadcast and traditional numerical channel lists, to a world of high definition, catch up TV with more dynamic and tailored menus.
“We also wish to look again at whether the right channels are being made easily discoverable, particularly in the area of children’s and local TV programming.”
The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 currently pay around £10m a year to Sky to appear in the Sky Guide, with the BBC’s bill around half the total.
Sky said: “Collectively the PSBs now pay less than £10 million a year in regulated platform charges, and this figure continues to fall. We will continue our discussions with the PSBs about how the charges can be brought down further.
“At the same time, we welcome the Government’s recognition that Sky should not be required to pay the PSBs for content which is freely available on competing platforms and services.”