Big ratings no illusion

Blaine's release from box draws peak audience

LONDON — American illusionist David Blaine’s release from his 44-day fast in a Plexiglas box suspended above the River Thames in London delivered a peak audience of 2.5 million viewers for entertainment web Sky One on Sunday at 9 p.m.

BSkyB execs, who paid £500,000 ($800,000) for the TV rights, were delighted with the results.

Thanks to heavy promotion and a barrage of stunts by the public that included pelting eggs and firing golf balls at the box, “David Blaine: Above the Below” was the fourth-most-popular show on Sky One ever with an average 1.93 million viewers. Only an episode of “Friends,” a Michael Jackson docu and “Diane: Her True Story” beat Blaine’s stunt.

Blaine was up against stiff competition from the U.K. networks. Pubcaster BBC1 won the timeslot with drama “Silent Witness” drawing 7.5 million.

Meanwhile, despite topping 5 million subscribers, BSkyB is rebranding Sky Movies in an attempt to persuade its stubborn 2 million basic subs to buy its premium services. While it won’t be changing its name, it will be changing its onscreen look and content.

Sky Movies, which broadcasts 2,000 pics per year and is the largest movie service outside the U.S., is said to be “lagging behind” Sky Sports and is undervalued by subs.

It unveiled a number of changes Monday including an investment in world cinema, a surprise departure for the commercially driven satcaster. U.K. digital subscribers can already watch foreign lingo pics on FilmFour and BBC4.