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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
BSkyB promotion hides time limit
Sky card
The card could cause contention in future for Sky
BSkyB's promise to provide a "free-to-view" satellite package with no monthly fee may be for only a limited period, it has emerged.

On Wednesday, the pay-TV giant said it would offer customers 200 TV and radio channels for a one-off fee of 150.

But Sky chief executive James Murdoch told shareholders that the free service was guaranteed for at least 24 months.

The BSkyB press release promoted the offer without referring to the two-year time limit.

Sky says the two-year period refers to its Sky card, which allows you to view free encrypted channels.

Readers of BBC News Online were anxious to point out that it won't be the first time people have been able to get free-to-air viewing on the Sky platform.
Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

When the card runs out, customers will not have access to ITV1, Channel 4 and five, and may have to pay for a replacement.

A spokesman from BSkyB said no decision had yet been made about whether there would be an additional charge to update the cards.

However, he did add that arrangements would be put in place to ensure that "viewers will receive continuity" when the cards are phased out.

BSkyB stressed that if viewers opt not to replace the card, they would still receive most channels.

Numbers peak

Under the original 150 offer, Sky would provide a set top box, viewing card, mini-dish and installation.

The new service will compete with Freeview, the free-to-air service backed by the BBC and BSkyB.

Freeview offers up to 30 TV channels and more than 10 radio channels - much less than Sky's offer of up to 200.

There has been evidence for some time that customer growth at Sky has reached a plateau where those who want it have already signed up.

But the new initiative will lure new customers who will eventually switch to its pay-TV service.

Sky has more than seven million customers while 3.5 million homes are equipped with Freeview.

According to the latest figures from communications regulator Ofcom, 53% of UK homes now have digital TV - but the government wants all homes to swap before the planned analogue switch-off by 2010.

One benefit of the Sky service is that it would reach the 25% of homes in more rural areas that cannot receive the Freeview service.

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