Digital age dawns

BSkyB satellite receivers go on sale today

LONDON — Digital TV becomes a reality tonight in Britain when the public will be able to purchase the necessary equipment and begin receiving BSkyB’s Sky Digital service.

News Corp.’s BSkyB began trial broadcasts of the service in June, but today’s midnight launch marks the first time consumers will be able to buy the satellite dish and set-top box decoder needed to tune in to Sky Digital.

Dixons Group’s flagship London store will open at 11:30 p.m. local time and begin selling the digital satellite receivers from midnight tonight until 1 a.m. Thursday.

Dixons chief executive John Clare and footballer Vinnie Jones will kick off a champagne reception at the company’s store on Oxford Street, one of London’s main shopping thoroughfares.

Better sound, image

Sky Digital promises viewers up to 200 channels with improved sound and image quality plus interactive services.

BSkyB is offering free satellite dish installation and discounted programming packages for as little as half the cost of its comparable analog services. The company beats to market by six weeks its terrestrial rival On Digital and is counting on that head start to give it an advantage going into the Christmas retail season (Daily Variety, July 31).

“It’s the first opportunity anyone has to purchase the equipment. No other store will be doing it,” a Dixons spokeswoman said Tuesday.

For its part, BSkyB is holding an invitation-only party for employees and guests at London’s landmark Battersea Power Station on Thursday night to mark the launch.

BSkyB has said its digital satellite systems — including a dish, set-top box and remote control — will retail for £199.99 ($342) for new customers and 159.99 ($254) for existing clients.

$11 per month

Subscription prices for channel packages will start with a “special value tier” at roughly $11 per month, while Sky Digital’s “family package” will cost about $19 and change, with premium channels available at added costs.

BSkyB is allocating almost $100 million to subsidize the free installation of the satellite dishes as part of its push to sell at least 200,000 Sky Digital systems by the end of the Christmas holiday period.

Rival digital terrestrial TV service On Digital, owned by ITV companies Carlton and Granada, is scheduled to launch Nov. 15. Also, digital cable services are expected next year from such companies as Cable & Wireless Communications.

Sky Digital’s set-top boxes are being produced by Pace Micro, Amstrad, Grundig and Matsushita. Widescreen TV sets with built-in decoder technology are expected to go on sale next year.

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