Cable firms look for a Hollywood ticket

CWC's talks with Sky over pay-per-view may be stalled. Cathy Newman reports

Talks between Cable & Wireless Communications and BSkyB about launching a joint pay-per-view service may have suffered a setback after Sky was told to drop its equity stake in British Digital Broadcasting (BDB), one of the consortia bidding for the digital terrestrial television licences.

Cable and satellite operators have been making overtures to the Hollywood studios - Disney, Universal, MGM, Warner, Paramount and Sony - for some time, lately with some urgency. Before BSkyB was ordered to pull out of BDB over competition worries the satellite operator had been making impressive headway in negotiations with CWC about a joint pay-per-view service. An announcement had been expected within weeks.

However, one source said yesterday that if Sky were to pull out of British Digital Broadcasting, CWC may decide to throw its lot in with the other cable companies in securing studio rights, rather than sleeping with the enemy, Sky.

Despite advanced talks with Sky, CWC has been careful not to close any doors in tying up content for digital cable. Hence the fact that CWC has joined Telewest in a consortium called On Demand Management, which is trying to tie up film deals on behalf of the cable industry.

An agreement on these talks is also due soon, but not until CWC has committed itself either to Sky or the cable industry. The company's spokesman indicated yesterday that a decision on which party to back was still some way off.

"We are keen to keep all our options open. We're still looking at where our content is coming from," he said.

So far, pay-per-view events - where consumers pay to view a specific film or sporting fixture - have been limited to four boxing events negotiated by Sky. But the advent of digital television will open the way for a range of pay-per-view opportunities, especially in the film industry.

The proliferation of channels promised by the switch from analogue to digital technology will enable individual movies to be shown at roughly 15-minute intervals on different channels - what's known as near-video- on-demand.

As Neil Blackley, media analyst at Merrill Lynch, explains: "To show movies on a near-video-on-demand basis, you probably need 100 channels showing 20 movies around eight months after theatrical release." According to Mr Blackley's own forecasts, based on similar services operating in the States, the average cable or satellite subscriber makes two pay-per- view film purchases a month, at around pounds 3 a time.

And the stakes are high, with revenues from movie services expected to approach pounds 1bn within a decade, according to the industry magazine, Broadcast. As a spokesman for Cable & Wireless Communications says: "There's pounds 1.3bn spent on video rental each year in the UK. We'd like a slice of that, please."

Pay-per-view plans are ambitious, but, at this stage, largely under wraps. A third of up to 200 channels offered by digital satellite would be dedicated to pay-per-view, which would include not only sporting events and movies, but also niche channels for which consumers would be prepared to pay extra.

For example, a Manchester United channel, featuring some exclusive matches, would be a possibility. The electronic programme guide, which enables you to find your way round the hundreds of different channels, would also allow viewers to structure their own viewing schedule by mixing and matching different pay-per-view sports and movies events.

Pay-per-view prospects on digital terrestrial depend on the outcome of the Independent Television Commission's deliberations. Digital Television Network, the group backed by the cable company NTL, has pledged to offer six pay-per-view sport and movie channels. However, BDB did not make any promises on pay-per-view in its application.

According to some analysts, pay-per-view movie services provide the cable companies with their big break. Although digital technology will allow Sky to provide many more channels than it can currently, transmitting by satellite still limits the number. Cable, by contrast, has virtually limitless capacity, and could, according to one cable operator "do 500 different channels in 500 different areas" if it chose to. Pay-per-view is expected to be the linchpin of CWC's digital service, and the company may use up to 80 channels to show the top 20 movies on release at any one time at half-hourly intervals.

Cable companies are going for broke on the film rights, in part because sport is pretty well sewn up by Sky. Rupert Murdoch's operator has an option on pay-per-view Premier League matches following Sky's pounds 670m deal last June. The rights would be well worth having, with UBS estimating that Premier League pay-per-view matches will be worth nearly pounds 450m by 2002.

With those kind of sums at stake, cable and satellite operators may be forgiven for saying there's all to play for before digital television gets under way in earnest.

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

C# .NET Developer (PHP, Ruby, Open Source, Blogs)

£40000 - £70000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: C# .NET ...

Data Analyst/Developer (Good education, Data mining, modelling,

£40000 - £70000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Ana...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor