Seconds away as Bruno takes on Sky TV

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The Independent Online
MATHEW HORSMAN

and KEN JONES

Outstanding financial results from BSkyB were overshadowed yesterday by the Office of Fair Trading's decision to refer the satellite broadcaster's Premier League contract to the courts.

The skies were further clouded as BSkyB found its plans for making Frank Bruno's world title fight next month against Mike Tyson the first domestic pay-per-view broadcast threatened by a financial dispute with the British boxer. Bruno is understood to be seeking a share of the additional revenue which pay-per-view coverage would generate, while Sky is unwilling to meet his demands.

For despite posting sharply higher profits, BSkyB, which is 40 per cent owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, saw its shares drop 22p to 392p, well off its peak of 434 reached just before Christmas. Turnover climbed 30 per cent to pounds 464m in the second half of 1995, while pre- tax profits soared 93 per cent to top pounds 106m.

Despite forecasts by media analysts that satellite dish sales would reach a plateau, the company saw its subscriber base grow by 354,000 in the last quarter of 1995 alone, to reach 5 million. That includes 1.5 million viewers who receive Sky programming on cable. Sam Chisholm, BSkyB's chief executive, said: "The last quarter was our best ever."

The company intends to continue to spend heavily on acquiring new programming, including sport and movies, which at present dominate the schedule.

It also confirmed that it would make an application to become a nominated supplier of news to the ITV network, in competition with ITN. Its application is believed to be supported by at least three ITV companies, including HTV, Yorkshire-Tyne Tees and MAI, which controls the Anglia and Meridian franchises.

Mr Chisholm said the company intended to introduce digital pay-per-view services by the end of 1996, allowing viewers to pay a set fee to watch movies and sport events. He added: "Pay-per-view is the future of television, but we want to get it right. We must make it irresistible to viewers."

Meanwhile, it is embroiled in the dispute with Bruno over money. When Bruno signed to defend the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship against Tyson in Las Vegas on 16 March Bruno's advisers may have been unaware that it was being planned as the first big sports event offered at a price on British television.

Bruno's subsequent realisation that he probably undersold himself when agreeing a purse of about $7m (about pounds 4.6m) explains why BSkyB has so far held back from confirming that only pay-per-view subscribers will see the contest.

Mr Chisholm said: "Certainly we would consider pay-per view for this event. But it is a question of money: we disagree about the split between Bruno and us." He added: "We may not do it at all if we can't come to an understanding."

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