Cable firms plan first pay-per-view television service

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The Independent Online
CABLE television companies in London are on the brink of launching Britain's first pay-per- view service, offering thousands of households access to four channels of new films for an extra fee of between pounds 2 and pounds 3 per film, the current cost of renting a video.

Nick Kane, group managing director of Videotron, with more than 100,000 subscribers in London, said the service will start in December or January, depending on negotiations with suppliers - the Hollywood studios, which have yet to sign.

London would be the test-bed for the new service which will eventually spread nationally.

Simon Bond, a spokesman for Nynex, which owns cable franchises in Bromley, south-east London, and Leatherhead in Surrey, said: 'There are a lot of discussions going on in smoke-filled rooms.' Nynex is also a major cable franchise operator in the Greater Manchester area, which could be the next area for expansion after London.

The London service is being provided by Interconnect, a group of companies holding 21 of the 22 franchise areas in the Greater London area, which cover 285,000 homes. Other companies in the group include Telewest, Videotron, Comcast and Encom Cable.

Once pay-per-view is established it can be used to screen special sporting events or concerts. Its introduction has taken longer than expected because of difficulties in striking deals with the distributors, but the system has become established in the United States.

The cable companies will devote four or five of their 40-plus channels to pay-per-view, offering a choice of films. Subscribers will be able to pick the film they want, which will be promoted probably on a fifth information channel, and a variety of start times. Videotron's TV set top receiver, now being modified, allows customers to order by tapping into their remote control.

The development hinges on establishing in the United Kingdom a new release 'window' for pay-per-view screenings: this is expected to be six months after video rental starts (which follows on from theatrical release) and six months before films go on to Sky subscription movie channels or terrestrial television (BBC 1 or ITV). 'There is now a momentum in cable and it is accelerating,' Mr Kane said.

David Elstein, programme director at Sky Television, said the company was also considering launching pay-per-view films next spring, after the launch of a fourth Astra satellite offering the scope to rent five or six extra channels to provide the capacity.

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