Robbie shows off Sky's toll road

ANYONE with access to British Sky Broadcasting satellite channels will have noticed the recent advertising blitz heralding the latest pay- per-view event on their Box Office channel.

To use their own soundbite, Sky are in a league of their own when it comes to hype, but this latest apparently too-good-to-miss extravaganza could have far-reaching effects on future entertainment viewing in this country.

With promises of Armageddon-like confrontations, Sky viewers are used to seeing Frank Bruno, Chris Eubank and Prince Naseem selling us the latest "big" fight but... Robbie Williams?

The former Take That star has been using his successful musical regeneration to promote the UK's first pay-per-view pop concert. Courtesy of Sky Box Office, and for pounds 9.95, you can see "Robbie Williams - Live In Your Living Room" at 8pm tonight.

Williams' appearance at London's Forum has been sold out for months, but if his collaboration with Sky sells as well as his recent record releases then it may not be too long before you can watch many of your favourite artists live on television, regardless of ticket availability.

The potential market for such a venture is huge. Sky have built their empire on the popularity of Premiership football and major boxing events, but these audiences are limited to the UK's sports fans. While Robbie Williams may not satisfy every music lover, how many people would pay to watch Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall or Oasis at Knebworth after every ticket had gone?

The media made much of the Premiership's rejection of Sky's proposal for pay-per-view football, but this new musical vein of toll-booth entertainment could prove as lucrative in the future.

"Robbie Williams is one of the major recording stars around and we wanted someone who would appeal to our viewers." said Sky spokesman, Phil Evans. "We were offered the rights to the concert and were very pleased when the deal came to fruition. As this is the first event of its kind we have no real idea how successful it will be, but we've effectively re-opened the gates for the fans.

"When the figures come in after tonight's event we'll have a much better idea of whether we'll schedule other events of this kind in the future and what sort of viewing figures to expect."

Last week the BBC broadcast The Verve's live performance in Wigan. The concert was a sell-out, but if the Robbie Williams event is a success, many leading bands may turn to Murdoch for a higher return on their television rights.

"We are public service broadcasters and we want to appeal to a wider audience," said Andrew Skinner, BBC Deputy Head of Publicity. "Sky's operation and funding are different from ours, so it's difficult to make a direct comparison. People can choose not to pay for Robbie Williams, but people will have already paid for our broadcasts so we're committed to universal access."

"Let me entertain you" is the message that Robbie Williams has been sending Sky viewers for weeks.

And so he will - at a price.

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