BSkyB does digital dash to 7m subscribers mark



BSkyB hopes to announce it has reached 7 million subscribers three months ahead of schedule when it celebrates the fifth anniversary of Sky Digital on Wednesday.

Tony Ball, the outgoing chief executive of the pay-TV group, set the target - to be reached by the end of the year - in July 2000, when BSkyB had 3.5m digital customers. BSkyB said last month that it had reached 6.8m by June.

Sky Digital's growth was backed by a high-risk strategy, devised by its former chief executive, Mark Booth, of giving away set-top boxes to customers for free. That cost £2bn but paid off for BSkyB, allowing it to break clear of its rivals, ITV Digital and cable companies NTL and Telewest.

ITV Digital, owned by ITV Carlton and Granada, was forced to match the giveaway deal and collapsed after the multi-million pound gamble failed to bring in sufficient subscriber numbers. Mr Ball's successor will inherit another set of stiff targets - 8 million subscribers and average revenue per customer of £400 by the end of 2005. BSkyB's present average is £366.