Tyson-Holyfield fight set to land BSkyB pounds 5m

Second pay-per-view bout in British television exceeds expectations
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More than 250,000 people have already agreed to pay pounds 9.95 each for the right to watch the televised WBA heavyweight championship boxing match tonight on Sky television between titleholder Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas,

The pay-per-view bout, the second in British television history, could attract 500,000 viewers by the time the event begins at midnight.

That is still less than the 660,000 who paid to see Tyson fight British hero Frank Bruno earlier this year, when pay-per-view was launched.

But sources at BSkyB, Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster, and at cable operators around the country, said the take-up levels were much better than anticipated. "We expected far less interest without a British fighter in the match," said one cable executive.

Industry sources said last night the results proved the viability of pay-per-view television. Many critics had suggested viewers would be unwilling to pay more than their basic subscription for pay-TV events.

Sky viewers already spend as much as pounds 26.99 a month to get 40 channels, including premium sport and movies, with cable subscribers paying even more.

Subscribers to Sky's sport channels will be able to see Prince Naseem battle Remigio Molina, of Argentina, for the world featherweight championship, starting tonight at 9:20pm.

The Steve Collins-Nigel Benn fight and the Ensley Bingham-Ronald Wright battle will follow. The British bouts will be "free" to those who already receive the Sky premium channels.

Thereafter, screens will go blank for those who have not paid their pay- per-view fee, although BSkyB said last night that orders will be taken at the premium price of pounds 14.95 even after the US fight begins.

Cable companies are also carrying the pay-per-view event, with viewers asked to ring a special number to arrange for the signal to be unscrambled. Subscribers in most franchises owned by Nynex CableComms will be able to order the event using their remote controls, through new technology in use for the first time in the UK.

Both Sky and cable operators expect impulse buying to push take-up rates higher in the course of today. On estimates of 500,000, not counting viewers in pubs and theatres, BSkyB stands to earn about pounds 5m from the event.

According to industry insiders, pay-per-view is expected to be the fastest growing market for pay-TV, currently worth about pounds 1bn.

In the US, the market has posted disappointing growth rates. However, industry leaders in the UK say the products on offer have been priced too high - in some cases double the pounds 10 or so set here.

Next year, BSkyB intends to launch a digital service, with as many as 60 channels dedicated to pay-per-view.

Both sport and movies are expected to form part of the package, with prices for movies set at about pounds 2-pounds 3 per view, about the price of a hired video.

Boxing preview, page 26