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Front Row expands on success

PPV service in talks with U

LONDON — Front Row, the cable pay-per-view movie service, has released better-than-expected buy-rate results for its first four months of business.

On average, about 34% of the 1 million British households that have access to the service bought one to three movies per month.

Transactions per month averaged more than 300,000 buys, representing around $1.6 million in sales. The top five movies over the four-month period were “Men in Black,” “Scream,” “Liar Liar,” “Con Air” and “Dante’s Peak.”

Front Row is a joint venture between Telewest and NTL, respectively the second and third largest of the remaining three U.K. cable operators.

Given the initial success of Front Row, an NTL spokesperson said there are now plans to allocate 40 to 50 channels to Front Row on NTL’s upcoming digital platform, a quarter of the total capacity. The platform is skedded to bow in the second quarter of 1999.

Telewest is planning to double the number of Front Row analog channels it carries from four to eight in the run-up to launching its own digital platform sometime in the first half of 1999.

Contrary to expectations, however, Front Row has not yet secured a long-term supply deal with Universal, as it has done with Columbia TriStar, Warner Bros. and Disney. Front Row had previously locked in a deal for just three movies from Universal — “Lost World,” “Liar Liar” and “Dante’s Peak.”

Andy Birchall, chief exec of Front Row, told Daily Variety that talks with Universal, as well as other film companies, were continuing, but that “the service operates very successfully with three studios.”

The U.K.’s biggest cabler, Cable & Wireless Communications, offers satcaster BSkyB’s pay-per-view service, Sky Box Office. Although buy rates for Sky Box Office are not available, some estimates place them well behind those of Front Row.

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