Tony Ball


British Sky Broadcasting


CONTRIBUTION: Built the world's largest interactive-TV broadcaster, letting more than 5 million customers send e-mails, customize news reports, and even buy pizza online.

CHALLENGE: Turn couch potatoes into active I-TV surfers, persuading them to spend more money online.

Tony Ball doesn't spend much time surfing the Web from his PC. Not that he doesn't like the Net. But when Ball wants to go online, he's more likely to click on his 48-in. flat-screen television in the office. It makes sense: The 45-year old is CEO of Europe's leading interactive TV broadcaster, British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC (BSY )

BSkyB is doing more than any other company to transform the old-fashioned TV into an Internet device. Its subscribers get some 200 channels and can send e-mail, order pizza, or buy books from their TVs. The service is doubly important in Europe, where only a quarter of households have PCs, compared with more than half in the U.S. By contrast, 23% of British homes use interactive TV, vs. just 2% of Americans, says researcher Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. Europewide, Jupiter expects 53 million households--33%--to use I-TV by 2003. "Although the PC won't go away, you need the ultimate trusted device to reach a mass audience--the television," Ball says in his clipped Cockney accent.

BSkyB reaches more of that audience than anyone, serving 5 million British homes. Now, it aims to expand around the world. BSkyB has bought 22% of Germany's Kirch Pay TV. And News Corp. (NWS ), which owns 37% of BSkyB, plans to roll in broadcasters in the U.S. and Asia to create a global powerhouse.

Sure, there are obstacles. The German operation is struggling to pick up subscribers. And last year, BSkyB lost $350 million as it gave away set-top boxes and satellite dishes in a bid to woo customers. But BSkyB more than doubled its subscribers in 2000, and analysts say it should be profitable by next year. So expect to find Tony Ball directing the show as the TV challenges the PC as the way to the Net.

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