Sky turns to movie-making as age of digital TV dawns

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The Independent Online
THE SATELLITE television company BSkyB yesterday moved into the movie business with the announcement that it will make five feature-length films in the next two years.

The chief executive Mark Booth said the first of the films, each costing between pounds 2m and pounds 6m, will be Tube Tales, a story of two life experiences on the London Underground. Ewan McGregor from Trainspotting will make his directorial debut for the film alongside Jude Law, who starred in Wild, and Amy Jenkins, who wrote BBC2's This Life.

The film foray raises the stakes in the company's battle with the Granada- Carlton joint venture ONdigital to secure subscribers for the new digital television service Sky will launch on 1 October.

Mr Booth said BskyB wanted to sign contracts with more BBC presenters following its recent success in securing the services of the veteran film reviewer Barry Norman and the football pundit Jimmy Hill. As part of Sky's attempt to secure universal acceptance and respectability the company would be interested in bidding to film the Queen's Christmas message when ITN's contract runs out next year.

In an enthusiastic presentation of his expectations for digital, Mr Booth said the company's research showed that 14 per cent of households wanted to buy digital television by Christmas. Sky was confident of reaching its target of 200,000 subscribers this year.

Premier League football would be available on pay-per-view next season but Mr Booth was anxious to improve Sky's image in the eyes of its customers with soothing messages about the continuing availability of the wide range of matches on the general Premier League service.

Acknowledging that during the Manchester United negotiations, Sky has been portrayed as in a hostile way, he emphasised the need for the company to build trust with consumers. He gave a number of pledges on the future of Manchester United, including an assurance that BskyB would not change kick-off times to suit Asia or America. "That," he said, "was obviously a dumb idea." He reassured supporters that BskyB would not change the name of Manchester United or move it from Old Trafford.

In support of the recent speech in Edinburgh by his colleague Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Sky's main shareholder Rupert Murdoch, he said his company perceived the BBC in a wholly favourable light, and praised its efforts to develop digital channels.

Personally, he said, he supported the continuation of the licence fee as the best way of funding the BBC - a position directly opposed to that taken by The Sun, a newspaper which is owned by Mr Murdoch.