MEDIA: BSkyB pay-per-view TV delivers a surprise punch

There is no doubt that BSkyB has confounded its critics, and once again shown how fast the British television market is shifting. The heavyweight title fight between Bruno and Tyson attracted more than 600,000 special subscriptions from homes linked to satellite and cable, with a further 2,000 clubs and pubs piling in.

There is no doubt that BSkyB has confounded its critics, and once again

shown how fast the British television market is shifting. The

heavyweight title fight between Bruno and Tyson attracted more than

600,000 special subscriptions from homes linked to satellite and cable,

with a further 2,000 clubs and pubs piling in.



The event has marked the successful debut of pay-per-view here, despite

the criticism. Sky is justified in a bit of self congratulation.



The crucial point is that the take-up rate of 14.4 per cent (of those

addressable by BSkyB) is comfortably above the one in ten percentage

regarded as satisfactory in the United States. Frank Bruno, of course is

a national hero even when he loses so pitifully, as Monday’s eight-page

pull out in the Sun demonstrated.



But the success shows that despite the howls of pain from Sky Sports

subscribers about being double-charged, and the hostile reaction from

newspapers, the silent sports fan coughed up. And the programme, if you

watched it, demonstrated how cannily BSkyB packages its wares. It

managed to sustain a gripping sequence of boxing from 1am onwards, with

top class commentary.



In addition, BSkyB’s subscription management centre in Scotland, and

the extra 800 temporary staff drafted in, proved it could cope with

demand. My household had no trouble getting through. I also phoned a

selection of cable operators last Friday, as the calls started to flood

in, to gain an insight into the public’s reaction from unbiased sources.

It suddenly became apparent that BSkyB had done quite a lot of things

right. By keeping the fee below pounds 10 (at (pounds 9.95) until

midnight it had pitched the price at an affordable level, about 30 per

cent of the US fee.



One cable operator manager, who had been highly sceptical about the

chances of success, explained how his company’s research suggested that

groups of young men in the suburban area they controlled were clubbing

together to organise a long night of partying, culminating with the

fight. The pay-per-view debut is causing heart searching within the rest

of the British media, which is still struggling to come to terms with

BSkyB’s head start in subscription TV technology and the huge power of

the lucrative and rapidly expanding new stream of revenue it produces.

What the experiment has demonstrated is that the UK public will dig for

special screen entertainment.



Interestingly, it may be the lack of really compelling events which will limit developments in the short run. BSkyB has no more pay-per-view proposals up its sleeve at present. But with multi-channel digital satellite services close at hand, the scope for a more sophisticated system for dialling up movie premieres looks ever closer.



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