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PPV Tamed!

By: Todd Bontoft
Date: 23/10/2000

Last week (Wednesday October 18), the American-owned cable company NTL made the controversial decision to withdraw from a £328M deal with the Premier League to screen pay-per-view matches from next season.

No reasons were given as to NTL's decision, Barclay Knapp, NTL's chief executive, said the company was unable to comment further on the surprise move to walk away from the deal, citing the terms of the confidentiality agreement signed with the Premier League.

One reason for the decision could be the company's £9BN debts but more realistic is cold feet following the flop of the recent pay-per-view attempt of the Finland v England game on pay-per-view channel Udirect.

Udirect has refused to release the number of subscribers but the company is reported as adamant that the figures were 'in line with expectations'. Yeah right!

Perhaps it's simply a business case that NTL has realised that it cannot make the deal pay, and has fought itself out of the hypnotic hype surrounding the attraction of live football on TV.

It would have cost NTL £2.75M in rights alone for each fixture. Add to this the costs of marketing and production and media analysts estimate the cost will rise to more than £3M per match. Just to break even, simple mathematics mean that, assuming a subscription of £10 per game, an average of 300,000 subscribers will need to be attracted to each of the season's 40 pay-per-view games.

Despite Udirect's well publicised technical problems, if you can't make pay-per-view work with the English national side playing a competitive game, when will you ever expect to return a profit from a game such as Southampton v Derby County?

NTL's now defunct deal allowed BSkyB to cherry pick the first and second choices of the weekend's games and then to screen the pay-per-view offering at the same time as Channel Four's free Football Italia.

Hmm, count me in! I will of course fork out around £10 for a game between a couple of clubs that has no interest to me whatsoever. I am only too willing to put more money in the pockets of the greedy and forgo a free game on another station between a couple of clubs that equally has no interest to me.

I will keep an eye on Serie A nonetheless. Just in case, I hear that Lennie has headed South and is looking for a new younger Ivano!

The failure of NTL to put pen to paper leaves the Premier League bosses with a major headache. Not only are many Premier league clubs experiencing a decline in attendance but this could be the first indication that football is no longer broadcasters' panacea - the 'must have' centre piece of their programming bouquet. But a loss of £328M is not small beer when shared between twenty clubs.

The article continues in Part Two

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