Memories fade with time, but few of us who lived it will easily forget the impact that the arrival of satellite television had in Gibraltar.
Right up until the early 1980s our viewing options were limited to GBC, a handful of Spanish terrestrial channels and Moroccan TV if you were lucky. Then along came MTV, and suddenly everyone wanted to watch music videos. Unsightly satellite dishes sprouted from rooftops until the entrepreneurial masterminds of today’s communal systems took over and removed many of them. The likes of Sky News and CNN transformed the way we consumed news with their 24-hour rolling coverage. A veritable smorgasbord of specialist channels blossomed catering for pretty much all tastes: “adult” films to cartoons, TV shopping to documentaries, movies to sitcoms.
Arguably the real game changer, though, was Sky Sports.
It introduced me, and I imagine many others, to the delights of test cricket and more arcane sports like rugby league. Boxing, as well as the golf and tennis majors could now be enjoyed on a regular basis.
Most significantly, Sky brought live UK club football for the first time ever into our living rooms. In the past, English footie on the box was restricted to the FA Cup Final and recorded highlights of the previous weekend’s top-flight matches. That changed dramatically when Sky Sports was awarded the exclusive rights to broadcast up to 60 live Premier League matches a year from the 1992/93 season. It seemed too good to be true.
And that’s precisely what my GBC management colleagues and I were told it was by a visiting Sky executive not long after I was appointed news editor in 1996. As GBC sought to adapt to the brave new world of satellite TV one avenue we explored was the possibility of simulcasting the programmes of UK channels such as Sky News during certain hours of the day. That didn’t prosper and we were further warned that Sky would soon pull the plug on the broadcasting of its sports, films and entertainment channels by local operators who were not paying for the full rights to do so.
Given that this conversation took place more than 20 years ago, the only surprise for me about losing Sky’s channels – with those of other providers likely to go the same way – is that it’s taken so long; I guess Gibraltar’s small size made us not worth bothering about. But that was always going to change once an entity seeking to offer a properly licensed service objected to competitors who made hundreds of channels available to their customers for a relative pittance.
I’m as unhappy as the next person at the prospect of seeing my viewing choices drastically reduced, but I’m also realistic enough to acknowledge that as a community we’ve had it too good for too long. My hope now is that a way will be found to enable us to continue to receive the most popular channels, even if it means paying more for them.
Maybe, in this election year, the government will ride to the rescue?