Sky moves into pay-per-view pop

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The Independent Online
Cathy Newman

BSkyB will become the first broadcaster to ask viewers to pay to watch a music concert when it screens a charity event for the victims of the Montserrat volcano next month.

News of the concert was yesterday revealed in so-called exclusive front page story in The Sun, the newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, the dominant shareholder in BSkyB.

Sky will put its substantial marketing budget behind the venture, which will inevitably increase its commercial profile as it seeks to introduce more pay-per-view events. It will also be able to assess how many viewers are willing to pay to watch concerts.

Sky beat the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to the exclusive rights to screen the concert, which will feature stars such as Eric Clapton, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Sting and Mick Hucknall.

Subscribers to the satellite broadcaster will be given eight opportunities to view the event over a four-day period, at pounds 4.95 a time.

A spokesman for Sky said that the company was confident of a "strong interest" in the event as tickets for the live Albert Hall concert had sold out within 90 minutes of being offered for sale.

Sky started experimenting with pay-per-view broadcasts, where subscribers pay extra to view a one-off event, last March when a boxing match between Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson drew 660,000 paying viewers.

Sky would not say yesterday how much it had bid for the Montserrat rights, nor how many viewers it hoped to pull in. All profits would be donated to the Montserrat Foundation, which is offering aid to the victims of the Soufriere Volcano, the company said.

To date, Sky has confined its pay-per-view ventures to boxing, showing five bouts over the last 18 months. However, the Montserrat concert will be the company's first foray into non-sporting events. Sky is widely expected to show films on a pay-per-view basis at a later date. The company has had talks with Cable & Wireless Communications about launching a joint pay-per-view service, but a deal is thought to be some way off being signed.

Harvey Goldsmith CBE, promoter of music for Montserrat, said Sky had come up with the "best opportunity" to raise the most money. He said that all terrestrial television companies, except Channel 5, had pitched for the rights. Mr Goldsmith added he was confident Sky would deliver a large audience.

Sir George Martin, formerly the Beatles' producer, owns a studio on Montserrat and is producing and organising the concert. He said the event would raise much needed cash for the victims and would bring the disaster into the public eye.