Open signs up 200,000 e-mail users in less than two months

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The Independent Online
OPEN, the interactive television service controlled by BSkyB and British Telecom, said yesterday that it had already signed up 200,000 users to its e-mail service, distributed through Sky Digital.

It has also attracted 73,000 users to the on-line banking service provided by HSBC, while 60,000 users have experimented with Interactive games such as Beehive Bedlam. "It is to encourage people to go into the Interactive service overall," said a spokesman, explaining the importance of the services.

Launched in September, Open has been adding new retailers to its service. Startups such as Toy Zone, a toy retailer, have come on stream to link with established sites from Woolworth and others.

Open's management believe there is big growth to come from the service's e-commerce functionality. And the company does not believe it has launched too late to become a major force. A spokesman noted that only 28 of Britain's top 100 retailers have fully functional on-line e-commerce sites - double the number of a year ago, but still relatively low.

Although Open's management emphasises that it is happy with usage to date, it is also looking to secure distribution on cable television when its digital platforms are launched. In this respect, the company has been encouraged by the referral of NTL's proposed pounds 8.5bn takeover of the residential cable assets of Cable & Wireless.

A key aspect of the referral by Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, is to examine when and whether cable companies should be required to open their distribution channels to third parties. Sky Digital is already distributing other channels on a pay-per-channel distributed basis, while BT will be required to offer wholesale high speed internet and data distribution over its network from April 2001.

Although most observers expect Mr Byers to approve the NTL-CWC merger, there is growing recognition that the government intends to push hard on ensuring open platforms for cable, digital subscriber line and satellite distribution technology.

Open is not aggressively pushing to get cable distribution currently since digitial cable, with only a few tens of thousands of subscribers, trails far behind the near 2 million that have signed up for Sky Digital.