BSkyB digital subs top 5 mil

Costs mount, co. posts $152 mil loss for first qtr.

LONDON — BSkyB has signed up over 5 million digital TV subscribers to date, representing 95% of the satcaster’s Ddirect-to-home customer base and well ahead of the competition.

But the drive into digital continued to exact a price.

For the quarter ending March 31, BSkyB posted a $107 million ($152 million) loss, compared to $41 million for the same period last year, on sales of $837 million, up from $668 million.

As expected, BSkyB is folding its troubled e-commerce TV service Open into a new division, Sky Interactive (Daily Variety, May 7).

This follows government clearance for BSkyB to up its stake in British Interactive Broadcasting, the consortium behind Open, to 80%. The satcaster is buying the stakes in BiB held by bank HSBC and Japanese tech giant Matsushita as well as part of British Telecom’s holding in a deal worth approximately $430 million.

The restructuring also entails BSkyB taking a $57 million exceptional charge.

Tony Ball, BSkyB’s chief exec, said combining the company’s interactive interests “will allow us to make cost savings, generate extra revenues and integrate more interactive content with television programming.”

Ball added that analog switch off, originally skedded for early summer, will be delayed until September, despite the fact that only 242,000 analog subs remain. Ball said he did not want to prematurely cut off customers that are holding out on taking digital.

BSkyB rival ONdigital, the digital terrestrial platform co-owned by ITV companies Carlton and Granada, has just over 1 million subs. Cablers NTL and Telewest both have less than 1 million digital subs.