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.