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Ofcom: Sky breached code over Virgin promos

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Sky breached Ofcom's broadcasting code when it ran on-screen promotions about its carriage dispute in February and March 2007, the regulator announced today.

On March 1 last year, Sky's basic channel package - including Sky News and Sky One - disappeared from Virgin Media's digital cable service after the two parties were unable to reach a new carriage agreement.

The dispute had been rumbling in private for some time but was first noted in public when, on February 11, Sky broadcast text on its basic channels noting: "If you’re an ntl:Virgin customer you should know that they are doubting the value of Sky One, Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Travel. These channels could soon disappear, along with your favourite shows like brand new Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica and Simpsons. You can help by calling ntl:virgin now on 0845 454 00 00 and urging them to keep the tv you love on air."

The promos were superseded on February 25 by a new set inviting people to "join Sky at sky.com/switch".

The next phase of the campaign began after March 1, when Sky broadcast further messages on its sports and movie channels, which are still carried on Virgin Media's cable service. One such example as cited by Ofcom was: "If you’re a Virgin Media Customer, you’ll know that they’ve dropped Sky Sports News. To get the tv you love back go to Sky.com/switch."

A fourth type of promotion aired exclusively on Sky's digital satellite service and reassured customers: "You may have heard that Virgin Media customers no longer receive some of the Sky channels. But don’t worry, as a Sky customer you’ll still be able to watch all your favourite programmes. Sky continues to invest in its channels so you can enjoy our groundbreaking shows like brand new Battlestar Galactica, Lost and 24. Count on Sky for the TV you love.”

Ofcom ruled that the first three types of promotion breached its cross-promotion code, with the second and third types also breaching rule 10.4 of the broadcasting code, which pertains to the giving of undue prominence to a product or service. The fourth type of promotion did not breach any rules.

In a submission to Ofcom before the verdict was delivered, Sky said that its invitations to "join Sky" with a website address were not unduly prominent because it was "the shortest, simplest and most effective way of providing the message that ‘the Sky Channels are now only available from the Sky digital retail television service – for more information visit Sky.com’".

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