BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News International, yesterday posted pre-tax losses for the year to June 30 of £262.7 million, compared with a deficit of £388.7 million last year. The loss was less than expected, thanks to a 20% increase in turnover to £1.84 billion.

The results include exceptional charges of £120.4 million, primarily attributable to the move to digital and the mass give-away of set-top boxes.

Sky has now signed 3.8 million subscribers to its digital service, said chief executive Tony Ball, who predicts that the number will soar to seven million by the end of 2003. Ball does not underestimate the task of persuading Sky's remaining 930,000 analogue subscribers to switch to digital in less than one year. "The last 50,000 homes will be tough," said Ball, who conceded that additional incentives are likely to be needed to achieve the goal.

A digital interactive text service, Sky Text, is on the drawing board. It will offer e-commerce and information across all BSkyB channels via an internet browser, enabling viewers to place bets on sporting events while continuing to watch TV programmes. The concept was hailed as a potential “killer application” by one enthusiastic media analyst.

Sky also plans a November launch for a premium-priced set-top box incorporating a personal video recorder. This will automatically record viewers' programme preferences as well as the programmes themselves.

Sky channels’ digital audience share is currently 18.7% of viewers, compared with 18.9% for BBC1 and ITV's 19.6%.

News source: The Times (London)