Media: BSkyB cracks the pay barrier: Despite higher charges, more viewers are signing up for channels that cost, says Torin Douglas

Like it or not - and some people clearly do not - pay-TV is now firmly established in Britain. BSkyB has just revealed that more than 3 million households are subscribing to one or more of its channels, via satellite or cable. Barb, the TV audience measurement service, says more than 10 million viewers, including almost a quarter of the nation's children, are watching.

Until two months ago, BSkyB charged viewers only for its film and sports channels. On 1 September it introduced its new 'multi-channels package', charging viewers pounds 6.99 a month for a package of other channels they previously watched free. The pill was sugared by the launch of new stations, including Nickelodeon for children, UK Living for women and QVC for armchair shoppers, but only a few satellite channels - such as Cable News Network, The Cartoon Channel and Sky News - remained free and unscrambled.

Despite some early complaints, the gamble seems to have paid off. David Elstein, BSkyB's head of programming, says more than 400,000 households have signed up for the 'basic' package and increased numbers are subscribing to the film and sports channels, at a cost of up to pounds 20 a month. And while up to 200,000 'dish homes' are thought not to have subscribed so far (no one knows exactly how many homes have satellite dishes), Mr Elstein believes that many of these will eventually pay up.

He could be right, because BSkyB claims to have solved a problem that has dogged pay-TV services all over the world - how to hang on to their subscribers. Traditionally, cable TV services in the United States and the UK have seen a high proportion of their customers cancel their subscriptions each year - a process known in the industry as 'churn'.

Eighteen months ago, BSkyB's churn level was 30 per cent a year, according to Chris Townsend, its director of consumer marketing. Now, he says, it is below 10 per cent - and much of that is accounted for by people moving house, which has overtaken redundancy as the biggest single cause of cancellation.

The key to BSkyB's pay-TV operation - and its reduction in churn - is its subscriber-management centre, which employs 2,000 people at Livingston, near Edinburgh. Here up to 160,000 phone calls a week are received from viewers wanting to open or cancel subscriptions, order new channels, question bills or find out more about the station's programmes.

When customers ring to cancel their subscriptions, an elaborate procedure comes into play, aimed at persuading them to change their minds. 'We ring them back and talk to them about the sports events and movies coming up in the next month,' says Mr Townsend. 'We ask them their reason for wanting to cancel, and if they say they can't afford it, we tell them about our lower-price packages, which they may not know about.'

Even those paying their full BSkyB subscription may soon have to pay extra for some events. BSkyB is planning to experiment with a pay-

per-view system in which viewers will pay for individual programmes, not channels. Mr Elstein says one idea might be a film premiere, coinciding with the film's UK premiere at a West End cinema.

What is in no doubt is the technology. It is as easy for BSkyB's subscriber-management centre to switch viewers on for an evening as for a month. Whether viewers will take to paying even more for their viewing is another matter.

The author is the BBC's media correspondent and reported on multi- channel television for Radio 4's 'Special Assignment'.

Suggested Topics
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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 Media

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Insight Analyst Vacancy - Leading Marketing Agency

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency have won a fe...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup