BSKYB goes digital

U.K. satcaster orders 1 million decoders

Rupert Murdoch’s British Sky Broadcasting will launch a digital platform in the U.K. and immediately plans to order 1 million signal decoders worth almost $400 million.

The deal is expected to be formally authorized by the BSkyB board on Tuesday, according to a report in today’s Fi-nancial Times.

Industry sources Stateside say the move is not unexpected, but is dramatic in terms of what it will cost the satcaster and what programming options will become available through it.

BSkyB is effectively the only satellite player in Britain but until now has beamed only analog signals to its 4 mil-lion-plus subscribers.

British viewers, who currently receive only four over-the-air signals and at most several dozen cable- or satellite-delivered services, could have access to as many as 200 channels by the end of the year.

A timetable for the digitalization of BSkyB may also spur deals with the Hollywood majors for pay and pay-per-view rights to their movies and TV shows.

The Hollywood studios have already signed lucrative deals with digital platforms in Germany and France, effec-tively carving out a new revenue stream for their product with the arrival of the new technology.

BSkyB has almost completed negotiations with four manufacturers for the supply of digital decoders, according to the Financial Times. They reportedly are Sony, with which Murdoch is also doing some joint business in the Far East, Panasonic, Nokia and Pace Micro Technology.

The BSkyB announcement follows similar digital plans unveiled recently by Murdoch — an investment in JSkyB in Japan and the launch of Sky in Latin America, to name only two.

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