BSkyB football boom oversold

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THE SUCCESS of British Sky Broadcasting's pounds 304m deal to televise Premier League football matches has been called into question by an apparent sales slump and a discrepancy of 400,000 in the published sales figures of satellite dishes.

Figures from Barb, the audience research bureau used by most advertising agencies, show that in the four months before Christmas just 200,000 new Sky dishes were sold, fewer than half BSkyB's target.

BSkyB's financial success depends on selling satellite dishes and subscriptions to its sports channel. Its hugely expensive deal to buy the right to show Premier League football matches was designed to boost dish sales and subscriptions to a new level.

The company wanted a quick increase because its finances were under threat from languishing sales. It claims that it has sold 1.4 million subscriptions so far.

Continental Research, which produces dish sales figures for the Financial Times whose parent, Pearson, owns 16 per cent of BSkyB, said in July that more than 2.5 million homes had dishes. Its October estimate indicated a monthly sale of 110,000.

Continental says dish sales in November and December were 132,000. However, its January total ownership figure is 2.596 million - some 242,000 fewer than it should be according to the previous monthly sales estimates.

Of the discrepancy, Continental says 112,000 is due to owners of old BSB squariels, excluded from the figures from 1 January when BSB's Marco Polo satellite was switched off. But this leaves 129,000 'missing' dishes. At the same time, Barb said the number of dishes in the UK at 1 January was just 2.3 million.

In addition, Barb said only 300,000 dishes were installed between August and December, compared with Continental's 364,000. Bill Meredith, audience research director of Barb, reckons that at least 100,000 were by people who exchanged squariels for Sky dishes. He 'frankly could not understand' the difference between his figures and Continental's.

John Clements of Continental said there had been some 'churn' when people who have bought dishes decide they do not want them. But to agree with Continental's figures, the churn would have had to be 20 per cent, in which case BSkyB would be losing viewers.

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