Hundreds of thousands of cable television customers woke up to blank screens on some of their favourite channels today after the deadline passed in a row between Sky and Virgin Media.
The bitter dispute showed no sign of being resolved as Virgin Media Chief Executive Steve Burch said nothing Sky had said or done in the negotiation indicated it had the slightest interest in doing a commercially viable deal.
Talks broke down yesterday in the row over how much Virgin Media – formerly known as NTL – pays Sky to screen its channels.
Channels including Sky One and Sky News disappeared from screens shortly after midnight, when the current contract between the two cable platforms expired.
It will come as a blow to fans of hit series such as 24 and Lost, who will now be unable to follow their favourite shows.
Sky One, Sky Travel, Sky News and Sky Sports News are the channels affected.
Talks between Mr Burch and BSkyB chief James Murdoch came to a standstill during a telephone conversation yesterday.
Sky has rejected Virgin Media’s offer of arbitration and Virgin Media has rejected Sky’s latest offer, confirming it would not table a new offer of its own.
Sky has also proposed to retail its basic channels directly to Virgin Media customers if Virgin Media will provide access to its closed platform.
Virgin Media today released a statement confirming all Sky’s basic channels stopped airing on its network at midnight.
The company said its sport and movie channels were unaffected and would continue to be available.
It said it had made ‘continued efforts’ to reach an agreement and its rival broadcaster had formally rejected its offer of independent arbitration.
Chairman of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson said: ‘We’re sorry that Sky have pulled their basic channels from our service.
‘When Virgin Media launched last month, we promised to put the power of the entertainment industry back in the hands of UK consumers, giving them the service they deserve and the value they’d expect.
‘Consumers have my wholehearted assurance that Virgin Media will not allow this dispute to prevent us from giving them the freshest and most exciting TV service in the UK.’
A Sky spokesman said today: ‘We know that Sky’s basic channels have many loyal cable viewers and our aim has been to avoid any disruption to their enjoyment of our programmes. We’re disappointed that we will now be denied access to cable TV homes.
‘We’ve made repeated efforts to reach an agreement but Virgin Media has rejected all of our proposals – including our latest offer of just 3p per customer per day.
‘Six frustrating days have passed since Virgin Media last put forward financial terms for a proposed agreement to Sky. As late as yesterday, Virgin Media declined to re-enter negotiations of financial terms and confirmed that it did not intend to make a new offer of financial terms to Sky.
‘Sky stands by the value of its basic channels. Millions of customers count on Sky to invest on screen. We understand that it’s an important part of attracting and retaining customers.
‘If Virgin Media decides that it wants to bring back the TV that its customers enjoy, we’re available for talks at any time.’
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