Satellite channel gears up for boom in pay-per-view

(First Edition)

THE SIZE of BSkyB's subscription centre in Livingston, Scotland, is to be doubled, and the workforce, which handles calls from viewers wishing to pay for film and sports channels, increased from 400 to 600.

The company is also installing a powerful computer system to handle the launch of pay-per-view on an experimental basis next year. This will be marketed for one-off events such as boxing matches and concerts. The knowledge gleaned will be used to smooth the introduction of pay-per-view for football matches, probably in 1994.

BSkyB is preparing for rapid growth in dish sales and subscriptions following the start of Premier League football on Sky Sports Channel from 16 August.

The channel, which is now provided free to homes equipped with an Astra-compatible satellite dish, switches to a scrambled pay channel from 2 September. Up to 500,000 new dishes could be installed in the run-up to Christmas, as the lure of watching live football drives sales, adding to the total satellite and cable network of 3.5 million.

Zenith Media, the arm of Saatchi & Saatchi which buys airtime and advertising space, estimates that Sky's six channels could be received in 5.7 million homes, or 25 per cent of the country, by the end of 1993. Gary Davey, managing director of BSkyB, said yesterday: 'I think this is ambitious, but achievable.' He also said BSkyB, now it has strong film and sports channels, is switching its attention to improving its somewhat weak Sky 1 general entertainment channel.

It has acquired a range of US serials and is dropping the down-market five-nights a week dating show Love at First Sight.

In the longer term, BSkyB is preparing to commission a five-nights-a-week soap opera. 'It is a big commitment, but if you get it right a soap is such a big goldmine,' Mr Davey said. 'What pay television does is overcome the natural lag new channels suffer from in attracting advertising revenue. Pay television delivers the funding to pay for the programming.'

Livingston's role, page 15