Sky set to hire 1,700 for digital services

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BRITISH Sky Broadcasting is planning to create another 1,700 jobs to cope with the strong demand for its digital satellite television service.

Mark Booth, BSkyB's chief executive, said yesterday the company was planning to hire another 1,200 operators for its call centre in Livingstone in Scotland. The group would also hire another 500 people to install satellite dishes for new subscribers.

A month after the launch of Sky Digital, Mr Booth said the 140-channel service had already signed up 100,400 new users, of which 65,000 have had their dishes installed.

He said demand was running ahead of BSkyB's own forecasts, adding that the company was well placed to meet its own target of signing up 200,000 digital subscribers by Christmas.

Mr Booth said 30,000 of the new subscribers were entirely new customers for BSkyB, suggesting that Sky Digital is successfully appealing to viewers outside the broadcaster's traditional customer base.

The extra staff are being hired to cope with strong demand for Sky Digital. BSkyB's call centre has been receiving 100,000 enquiries a day since the new service was launched. "This product is a big, big hit," Mr Booth said.

Speaking at BSkyB's annual meeting in Westminster, Mr Booth said the company was in talks to sign up the satellite television rights to show Formula One motor racing. However, the two sides were having trouble agreeing on price.

"There is a big difference between the asking price and what we are willing to pay," Mr Booth said.

Meanwhile, BSkyB yesterday reported a drop in profits during its first quarter of the year. In the three months to 30 September - the period directly preceding the digital launch - pre-tax profits dropped to pounds 52m from pounds 61.6m in the same period of the previous year.

Mr Booth attributed the drop to a 15 per cent increase in programming and administration costs in the run-up to the launch of digital.

The figures were accompanied by a drop in the total number of subscribers. By the end of September, BSkyB had 6.88 million subscribers, down 17,000 in the period. BSkyB shares closed up 2p at 487p.