BSkyB has angered fans of medical drama ER by showing weeks of repeats after being hit for the first time by delays in the US transmission.
Under Sky’s agreement with ER’s distributor Warner Brothers, it cannot screen an episode in the UK before it has been shown in the US.
But weeks of sporadic interruptions in the series’ US transmission – because of major sports events and slack viewing periods – has forced Sky to show repeats, culminating in a run of four old episodes out of the past five.
Sky, which screens ER on Sky One on Thursday nights, and prides itself on showing top US series ahead of its terrestrial rivals, has broadcast apologies before each repeat.
A BSkyB spokeswoman says: “Obviously it’s a problem and it has upset our viewers.” Sky had to launch the latest ER series only four weeks behind its transmission on NBC, to give it a ten-week window before the episodes appeared on Channel 4.
Now Sky One is only two weeks ahead of Channel 4, adding to Sky’s concern about ER’s recent disappointing viewing figures. A Sky source says: “We are very concerned about ER’s performance. People are bored with it now.”
Les Sampson, controller of Sky Channels, says: “This is the first time it has happened. ER is the only show which relies directly on what is happening in the US. It will always happen with ER. If we wanted to play the series later we could, but it would mean C4 catches up with us, which defeats the purpose of buying it.”
But he adds: “We will buy the next series, I’m sure.” He says Sky will not have to show any more repeats until the series finishes on May 21.
Channel 4’s transmission of ER has also been affected by a one-week interruption of the series. On May 6 it will screen an hour-long interview with the cast of Friends by Big Breakfast presenter Johnny Vaughan, instead of ER.