MEDIA: Is pay-per-view really the naked greed of BSkyB?

The outcry over Sky’s introduction of pay-per-view charges for the fight between Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson speaks volumes about the state of the British television market. For months it has been clear Sky was going to flex its technological muscles, and use the event on 17 March as our first ever pay-per-view experiment.

The outcry over Sky’s introduction of pay-per-view charges for the fight

between Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson speaks volumes about the state of

the British television market. For months it has been clear Sky was

going to flex its technological muscles, and use the event on 17 March

as our first ever pay-per-view experiment.



But the broadcaster was clearly unprepared for the scale of opposition

it has provoked by asking boxing fans, who already subscribe monthly to

Sky, to pay an extra pounds 9.95 (rising to pounds 14.95 for late

bookers) for home ‘ringside’ tickets. For once the people frothing at

the mouth are not politicians or crusty old cricket -loving peers, but

ordinary Sky viewers, who are howling about being double charged.



It is all very well for Sky’s David Elstein to point out that it was the

promoters and not Sky who decreed the fight should be available only as

a pay-per-view event: that if Sky had not screened it fans would have

been forced to go to cinemas in the middle of the night or make do with

a recording. Nor is the argument that pounds 9.95 is a bargain compared

with pounds 34 charged to American viewers likely to defuse things.



But this spat may illustrate something more profound about the UK

marketplace - that Sky has lost touch with its audience. It is starting

to frighten rather than serve it. To do this, at the same time that

political pressure is mounting to curb the company’s power, seems very

unwise. For years commentators (like me) and operators have glibly and

unquestioningly assumed that pay-per-view was the coming thing,

especially since British culture tends to ape all things American.



But perhaps we won’t go all the way. What we are now witnessing, at the

very least, is a failure of marketing. The British public has not been

prepared for this new form of market, either by Sky or the owners of

such events, and feels exploited. Earlier this week I was a delegate at

the Financial Times new media conference with businessmen at the cutting

edge of satellite and cable. What became clear was that, though the

British satellite/cable market is one of the most sophisticated and

developed in Europe, scant attention has been paid to customers. This is

why cable companies are launching belatedly this week a major marketing

campaign. Several key players remarked that the amount of viewing in

cable/satellite homes devoted to the new channels remained low because

so little attention and money was spent on making new programmes.



Sky should have launched pay-per-view with a tempting special event, say

a concert, which it would not normally screen. That way it might have

persuaded us that pay-per-view was a genuine new useful offering, not

greed dressed up as service.



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