Nearly Half Of All UK TVs Digital-ised: Ofcom

The number of UK TVs connected to digital devices – ones that can receive digital TV signals – has increased to 48.5% reports Ofcom.

Nearly Half Of All UK TVs Digital-ised: OfcomThe quarterly report snappily titled, Communications Market: Digital Television Progress Report, covering the fourth quarter of 2006 (October-December), shows the figures are up from 39% in the same period the previous year, and also from 44.7% in the Q3 2006.

The run up to Xmas is traditionally a time where many more new TVs are bought, in a desperate attempt to increase the ‘enjoyment’ of Xmas by numbing their brains watching ‘entertainment’ on TV. It appears no different this year as a further one million UK homes acquired digital televisions for the first time.

Previously, Ofcom used to highlight the number of UK households that were digital-TV-enabled, which has now reached 77.2%. This figure received a fair degree of criticism as, although it sounded impressive, didn’t give a true reflection of what the impact of switching off analogue would be for UK TV watchers.

There’s been an interesting announcement in the US, where the American households will be offered up to two $40 vouchers to switch to digital TV. The UK government has actively discouraged thinking like this in the UK.

As ever, there’s a huge pile of numbers that will be poured over by those in the industry who get quite excited about this type of thing. We’re normally in this category, but for some reason were not too excited about this quarter.

Communications Market: Digital Television
Progress Report, Q4 2006

BBC Say Yes (Probably) to FreeSat

The BBC have been talking about launching a free satellite service since before 2004. Very cleverly they labelled it Freesat.

BBC Say Yes (Probably) to FreeSatSince then, we’ve returned to it a number of times, as it appeared to drop from the general BBC conversation.

Well it’s back in the news now, as the BBC Trust has reached a provisional decision on Freesat. Their view is one of support and have opened a 28 day public consultation prior to making its final decision in April 2007.

They foresee the satellite being shared among the UK broadcasters and guarantee that it will remain free after a one-off initial payment to cover the cost of equipment and installation.

There are problems with the much-trumpeted digital switch-over in the UK. Many areas are not covered by the digital transmitters because they are located in a remote area or that the geography of the area blocks the transmissions – in fact over half of those yet to switch (3.5 million homes) fall outside the Freeview coverage area. Satellite-delivered services do not suffer from these problems.

To date BSkyB has been the only company offering satellite delivery in the UK, indeed the BBC is carried on it. The proposal of FreeSat isn’t without impact.

As Acting BBC Chairman Chitra Bharucha put it, “We have considered the market impact and whilst there may be some negative effects, in our view these should be balanced against the potential positive market impact of greater choice. Overall, we believe a “Freesat” service to be in the public interest and we hope that other public service broadcasters would join the BBC in a joint venture.”

There’s additional benefits beyond coverage, that of delivery of HD signals, which currently it isn’t practical to do countrywide over Freeview.

Those wishing to comment should get over to the public consultation.

Happy ‘Birthday TV’ To Me

Happy Birthday TV To MeNo it’s not the time for you to throw me a lavish surprise celebration ‘do’ (mark 9th August in your diaries for that one), it is time to tell you about the gift for those who have nearly everything … or nothing.

Hidden away in the schedules of the Wrestling Channel (where else?) is another sign of the converging of old and new medias .. Birthday TV.

As they say in their schedules.

Birthday TV is the brand new, magical TV channel that lets you celebrate your friends’ and family’s birthday by broadcasting your special messages to them on live TV.

The Wrestling Channel has identified that the User Generated Content (UGC) so successful for the guys behind YouTube, is the key to getting their cash registers ringing. As well as inviting viewers to submit (legal) wrestling-related material for ‘my TWC,’ it’s decided to sell off some of its airtime for celebratory purposes.

Happy Birthday TV To MeThe intention is that this new programming will start with Birthdays and then open up into other anniversary days to help it fit its ongoing remit ‘as your big day tv’ and it’ll also put the content on the Web for further targeted enjoyment. Merry Christmas TV and Happy New Year TV are already in planning.

There’s been a market in TV airtime for quite a while but buyers have generally used their slots for TV Infomercials. Channels like Open Access on Sky Digital have also experimented with making time available to purchase in their schedules, as channels look at alternative revenue streams expect to see more of this type of programming.

Happy Birthday TV To MeBirthdayTV prices start at the pretty reasonable level of £30 for 15 seconds, with a minute coming it at £100. Booking is via an online form, with video being sent in by post, at least ten days before broadcast.

Birthday TV

BT Vision Buys From BT/Entriq

Entriq Gets Into Bed With BTBT Media and Broadcast the business to business outfit within BT’s Global services division has announced an alliance with Entriq.

It’s a change for BT Media and Broadcast (BT M&B), who’ve in the past received coverage at Digital Lifestyles for their efforts to offload their satellite TV interests to have some positive news to announce.

The BT Media and Broadcast/Entriq combination has already landed an important customer in the shape of BT Vision, who as well as planning to roll out of a ipTV customer proposition to the home at the end of this year, have a live ‘download to own service’ at

Barry Bonnett BT M&B’s CEO, aware that some cynics may think BT signing with BT rather convenient, noted that the tender was “highly competitive,” and that, “BT Vision recognised the quality of service and cost effectiveness of our overall network based capability.”

Entriq, who are in the business of developing and managing Pay Media infrastructure, is part of the South African publishing and media conglomerate Naspers. Naspers, as well as having the successful consumer TV platform Multichoice in South Africa, has technology interests that include the Conditional Access company Irdeto.

Entriq Gets Into Bed With BTHeadquartered in San Diego, California, Entriq have offices dotted around the world and have a host of existing big name broadcast customers that includes MTV Networks, NBC Universal and the UK’s Channel 4 television.

Pub Landlords Get One Over On Sky

Pub landlords get one over on SkySky TV has a strong market presence in providing big screen football to the drinking public in licensed premises in the UK. This virtual monopoly has long been a bone of contention for ‘Mine Hosts’ keen to encourage soccer imbibers to their premises for the big games, but over a proverbial barrel in terms of the price they have to pay.

Sports rights owners sell their rights by territory, but radio waves beamed out of the heavens know little of national country borders, and some enterprising landlords have made arrangements to take their soccer from sources other than the UK licensed broadcaster, Sky.

Pub landlords get one over on SkyGreek, Czech and Arabic satellite TV channels have signed up with the UK’s Premier League for coverage of the UK’s beautiful game, and the deal they have is at a much better price (as we’d expect), than the one Sky negotiated, in what is a competitive market for commercial coverage of the national game.

British licensed premises can pay up to £6,000 a year for Sky’s football package and the same games, without the irritating commentary, can be received for a more manageable £39 a week from overseas operators.

Sky feel that such arrangements are against their interest and are taking the matter to court, but there’s an argument that the free EU market should permit the Greek ‘grey’ import to be available to the market. While the legal niceties are sorted out, packages designed to satisfy the UK market are clearly available on the Internet and are labelled as ‘legal’ for British pubs, citing the European soccer body EUFA .

Freeview TV Homes Exceed Analogue For First Time

Freeview TV Homes Exceed Analog For First TimeWe wouldn’t normally bore you with tales of how many more percent of the UK population have joined the Digital TV-owning army, but this one is a significant one.

For the first time, the number of households having the BBC-backed Free-to-Air service, Freeview, has exceeded their analogue cousins. Nearly 7.1m have Freeview and 6.4m are still analogue only.

Freeview will also be pretty pleased that for the third successive quarter their sales have exceeded the 1 million mark, achieving 1.2m between January and March, up 40% over the same period last year.

Digital satellite is still the Digital Daddy, with 7.7m homes subscribing to Sky and the remaining 645,000 receiving free-to-view satellite.

There would have been relief at the recently-merged UK cable companies when they saw that there’d been an increase in the number of subscribers. The gain for NTL is only 5,000 subscribers in real terms as the additional new now-digital 70,000 digital cable subscribers were laid off against the 65,000 analogue subscribers who switched. These figures relate to the pre-merged companies.

Interestingly there still around 500,000 analogue subscribers out of the 3.3m total cable subscriber-base. Changing these has got to be a priority if NTL want to start making the returns they need from subscribers.

Freeview TV Homes Exceed Analog For First TimeTV over ADSL First
For the first time Ofcom has reported separate figures for TV over ADSL services. Currently this is only London-focused HomeChoice, but they will be joined in short order by other IPTV companies like BT Vision. HomeChoice gained at a rate of 21.4% over the same period in 2005, ending with 48,545 subscribers.

Breaking down Sky’s figures
There’s some interest to be had comparing Sky’s Q4, 2005 figures with Q1 2006 – a couple of surprises lie in there.

Churn (number of subscribers leaving the service) is up to 11.4% over 10.6% and ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) is down £5 to £392 from £397. This doesn’t sound like a lot until you look at it in terms of income loss – over £38m.

On the positive front there was a gain of 87,000 households, with multi-room households gain 84,000 and Sky+ users up 149,000, now hitting 1,430,000.

Freeview TV Homes Exceed Analog For First TimeAdditional TV Sets – Ongoing problems
Ofcom are estimating that 38% of Freeview sales are intended to secondary TV sets which will start to allay a lot of fears.

The big hurdle for the UK digital switch-over gang is the replacement of the non-primary TV set, the bedroom TV & video, little Johnny’s TV and the spare that the babysitter uses. When the analogue-broadcast lights go off is when these people start to yell.

Ofcom UK Digital TV Q1 2006 report (PDF)

Sky, Disney HD and VoD Deal Signed

BSkyB, the UK satellite TV behemoth, is getting closer to Disney. They’ve just announced a comprehensive agreement which covers both HD (High Definition) content, which Sky have said will be available in 2006, and the distribution of Disney content will be available on Sky By Broadband, their recently released free content-to-PC’s. service.

It’s the largest distribution deal that Disney has arranged outside the US and also mentions the deal covers video-on-demand (VoD). The VoD section of the deal does cover Sky-By-Broadband, but could also cover their yet-to-be-detailed, EasyNet-delivered VoD service, which interestingly isn’t mentioned in the release.

News release follows …


Two New Channel Brands – Disney Cinemagic and ESPN Classic – To Launch As Part Of New Arrangement

Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney Become Available to Millions More Viewers As Part Of ‘Kids Mix’ Package of Basic Channels

Walt Disney Studio Movies Available From Sky HD and Sky by broadband

Jetix distribution on Sky digital extended

Disney Media Networks, The Walt Disney Studios and British Sky Broadcasting (Sky) today announced plans to bring a wider choice of channels to Sky digital customers and to work together to exploit new opportunities in high definition television and broadband. The wide-ranging series of agreements expands the portfolio of great content from The Walt Disney Company available to Sky digital customers and extends the relationship between the two organisations.

Two new channel brands – Disney Cinemagic and ESPN Classic – will be made available to Sky digital customers for the first time, while Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney will be available to millions more Sky digital viewers as part of the Kids Mix package of basic channels. There will also be more ways to enjoy great films from The Walt Disney Studios as movies distributed by Buena Vista International Television join Sky’s legal broadband download service, Sky by broadband, and its forthcoming high definition television offering, Sky HD.

From 16th March, Disney Cinemagic, a new premium channel brand for families, will be the first place on television to see Disney’s latest animated films such as Pixar’s The Incredibles. Subscribers to Disney Cinemagic will also enjoy regular access to other great Disney favourites such as Lady and the Tramp and Cinderella. Disney Cinemagic will be available to Sky digital customers as a stand-alone premium channel or as a bonus channel for subscribers to Sky Movies 1 and 2.

From the same date, Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney will be available to Sky digital customers as part of the ‘Kids Mix’ of basic channels. Disney Channel will be even more kid-focussed, complementing Cinemagic, and offering live action favourites like That’s So Raven, popular animation series and Disney Channel Original Movies, including High School Musical which is currently taking the States by storm. Playhouse Disney, a channel targeted to preschoolers, will premiere the new CG animated, learning-focussed series, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, in May.

ESPN Classic, launching on 13th March as part of Sky’s ‘News and Events Mix’, will be the only sports channel in the UK devoted entirely to the greatest moments and legends of sport with a mix of all-time classic highlights, matches, movies, interviews, profiles and documentaries. ESPN Classic, part of ESPN Inc., the world’s leading multinational, multimedia sports entertainment company, will be available 24/7 on channel 442. Launch night alone will include Borg vs. McEnroe – the Great Wimbledon Rivalry, England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup Final victory over Australia and the 1984 European Cup Final between Liverpool and AS Roma.

Through a distribution agreement with Buena Vista International Television, Sky Movies will continue to offer a package of current and library Walt Disney Studio films,,with customers enjoying access to forthcoming Sky Movies premieres such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Sin City and Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. In addition to the extension of existing pay-TV and pay-per-view rights, the new agreement gives Sky the ability to offer these titles in High Definition format and on a video-on-demand basis. These titles will also be available, for a set period, via the Sky by broadband service, which since last month has allowed dual Sky Movies subscribers to download films to their personal computers to enjoy when they want at no extra cost.

Under an amended distribution agreement, Sky digital customers will continue to enjoy access to Jetix and Jetix+1 for up to a further five years from the expiry date of the current deal in 2007. Jetix offers a dynamic programming mix of action, adventure and cheeky humour, both animated and live action, for kids with a core focus on 7-11 year olds, with programming highlights including Power Rangers, Jackie Chan Adventures, Totally Spies and A.T.O.M Alpha Teens on Machines.

In commenting on the announcement, Anne Sweeney, Co Chair of Disney Media Networks and President, Disney-ABC Television Group, stated: “This agreement, which marks our largest distribution deal outside the US, is great news for viewers, who will now be able to access an even broader array of Disney content, either through their TVs or via broadband on personal computers. The strategic utilization of new technologies to meet consumer needs is of paramount importance to the growth of the Disney Media Networks Group, and we look forward to this deal enhancing an already rich association with Sky, and our viewers in the UK and Ireland.”

Richard Freudenstein, Sky’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “These agreements show the range and quality of Disney content. Working with outstanding brands like Disney and ESPN allows us to offer great entertainment for every family member and to break new ground in multi-platform content distribution. With today’s announcement, we are creating another compelling reason for families to join Sky digital and demonstrating again the strengths in content and innovation that position Sky well for sustained growth.”

George Bodenheimer, Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks and President, ESPN, Inc and ABC Sports, said: “ESPN has built up a passionate bond with sports fans and we are very excited to extend this with the launch of ESPN Classic in the UK on the Sky platform. We are confident that ESPN Classic, a dedicated new sports channel designed specifically for the UK market, will capture the attention of the UK sports fan as it has in over 40 countries across Europe.”

Hauppauge Nova-s PC Card Offers Freesat TV Via Sky

Hauppauge WinTV Nova-s PC Card Offers Freesat TVHauppauge Digital have whipped out a new add-on card to convert a boring old PC into a multimedia-tastic satellite TV receiver.

Their new WinTV Nova-s card receives free satellite channels (the -s is for satellite), and will work with Sky’s Freesat, that give free access to the unencrypted channels on Sky, which are currently all of the BBC offering and soon ITV (hopefully). Sky normally charge you £150 for the privilege.

Once they’ve shelled out for the £59.99 (~$103, ~€87) decoding device, punters won’t need a viewing card or subscription fees to enjoy free satellite transmissions on their desktop.

The card is aimed at consumers who already have a satellite dish stuck on their roof/wall, with Hauppauge suggesting that the WinTV Nova-s would be ideal for a PC “in the kitchen, study or bedroom as an additional digital TV.”

Owners can watch full screen satellite TV on their desktop, or have a smaller window open whilst trying to work on something else (yeah, right: who’s going to carry on working on their VAT return when there’s some top notch footie onscreen?!)

The Nova-s is compatible with Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center Edition, and also offers the option to record shows to the PC’s hard disk. It will also work with all-round media handlers like ShowShifter.

At the moment, the Hauppauge’s WinTV Nova-s can receive all the BBC TV channels (including One, Two, Three, Four, CBBC, Cbeebies and BBC News24 and Radios 1 to 7.)

ITV currently encrypts, or scrambles, its satellite transmissions using the service provided by Sky, but will soon be following BBC’s lead and broadcasting its channels without encryption, so they can be viewed any satellite receiver.

This means that ITV1, ITV2, ITV3 and the ever-fascinating Men&Motors will become available soon, with more channels to be added in 2006 when Freesat officially launches.

Freesat will be the satellite equivalent of Freeview,” said Yehia Oweiss, Managing Director of Hauppauge Digital. “Already broadcasting BBC, the service will be available to all UK households and bring free digital TV to the 25 per cent who are outside Freeview’s area. Consumers can buy our Freesat tuner now and enjoy many digital channels now, with more being added all the time.”

The WinTV Nova-s looks reasonably future proofed too, offering HDTV (High Definition TV) compatibility, with HDTV broadcasts expected to be delivered by satellite in 2006/7

Freesat’s EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) will be made available on the Hauppauge card, but for now the information can be downloaded through the Internet.

The Hauppauge WinTV Nova-s also provides a video input socket for slapping in a camcorder and digitising the content into MPEG format for editing and burning to DVD.


Satellite Operators Consolidation To Continue

Satellite Operators Consolidation To ContinueIt’s not cheap to launch a satellite and, as commercial satellite operators have become prey to acquisition over the last 2 years, this has been followed by the operators consolidating. The economics of satellite distribution have fundamentally changed in the USA and Western Europe. Expect competition to be fierce in what was until recently a comfortable cartel carved out the International Telecoms Union (ITU) with constituent members many years ago.

Long term, there may be question marks over the future of satellite. While it’s currently the main method of transmitting digital pay-TV platforms to much of Europe, the threats increase. The combination of the continued increases in the efficiencies of encoding technology and additional service distribution reduce the need to rely on satellite.

Satellite does still have an important role to play as an intermediate solution, that is, providing connectivity and services ahead of the arrival of more sophisticated solutions. It will also continue as a ‘in fill’ for those places where the population is dispersed and delivery of data by other means would be uneconomic.

Increasingly telecommunications traffic is being carried by fibre – an example being sports games, that used to be delivered to the broadcasters by satellite, now routinely use fibre that is available at most major venues. This has led to many Telco’s divesting their interest in the satellite companies.

Satellite Operators Consolidation To ContinueTelecommunications companies like France Telecom are increasingly selling off underused teleport facilities – they’re those places with loads of big satellite dishes pointing towards the heavens. These are being bought by satellite operators so they can offer an integrated end-to-end solution to their customers.

So expect the merged Intelsat/PanAmSat who bought PanAmSat for $3.2 billion at end of August to take satellite uplink business from Globecast (owned by France Telecom) and other European Telco’s who have traditionally up-linked their satellite services.

The metamorphosis will continue with an IPO by Eutelsat and a beefed up Inmarsat. Despite a good year for satellite companies, focus will shift to the growing markets of Asia and Africa with tighter control of costs and careful management of capacity in the mature markets.

Anyone say all change?

BBC ‘FreeSat’, Looking Even Less Likely

BBC 'FreeSat', Looking Even Less LikelyAs reported here at the beginning of the week there seems to be a real danger of the BBC’s non-subscription card free alternative to Sky’s Freesat offering falling at the first fence.

While the BBC cosies up to Sky to help make everyone covet a shiny new High Definition display and the services that go with it, it’s reported in Broadcast that the companies who will manufacture the receivers have no specification to work too.

If a specification isn’t nailed down in the next few months, it’ll be 2007 before the boxes hit the shops. By then there could be considerable consumer resistance, with buyers prefering to wait to see what happens with any new high-quality domestic standard, and the makers of the boxes moving to newer higher tech, bigger margin products.

In short, there’s a danger that the boat may be missed.

BBC 'FreeSat', Looking Even Less LikelyA raft of HD services across Europe is likely to eat up scarce capacity on the high-power satellites that beam the programmes down to earth, making any system that duplicates services across platforms more expensive.

Add to all of the above the challenge of creating a clear marketing and installation message, and I can see that there could well be people in the BBC who would rather that their careers didn’t get blighted by a potential fiasco.

The BBC could be minded too by OFCOM’s view that the burdens of switching to digital delivery should not fall disproportionately on the dear old ‘beeb’. Unless priorities change, James Murdoch can relax on the BSkyb extra terrestrial UK monopoly for a bit longer.

But will the public gain too?