Sky Probed Over ITV Share Holding

Sky Probed Over ITV Share HoldingThe UK Department of Trade and Industry has referred Rupert Murdoch’s Sky purchase of nearly 18% share holding in major UK broadcaster ITV.

In the words of Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, “My decision reflects consideration of the reports I have received from both the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom and of other representations I have received about this matter.”

This action won’t be unexpected at Sky, Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading recommended this back on 27 April this year.

Sky has released the following statementSky notes today’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. We look forward to engaging with the Competition Commission as the ongoing regulatory process enters its next phase.Translation: Bring it on.

Sky+ Subscription Charge Ending

Sky+ Subscription Charge EndingSky has made the decision to scrap the subscription charge for the Sky+ PVR service starting 1 July 2007.

Since its inception in 2001, Sky has been charging users of the Sky+ service £10 per month to keep using it, this includes receiving the EPG information, required to drive the service.
Continue reading Sky+ Subscription Charge Ending

Sky TV Looks Set To Sign Distribution Deal With Tiscali: Virgin Media Would Suffer

Sky TV Looks Set To Sign Distribution Deal With Tiscali: Virgin Media Would SufferMurdoch’s Sky TV looks set to surprise industry pundits and mightily miff Virgin with a sneaky agreement with Internet television/ broadband ISP group Tiscali.

According to an article in The Times today, Tiscali have been slurping coffee and dunking biscuits with the BSkyB boys, and look set to get jiggy with a deal to let Tiscali deliver the TV channels pulled from Virgin’s service recently.
Continue reading Sky TV Looks Set To Sign Distribution Deal With Tiscali: Virgin Media Would Suffer

Sky Remote Record Via The Internet

Sky Remote Record Via The InternalSky has gradually been increasing the number of ways to program your Sky+ and HD boxes to record. The latest, via the Internet, joins interactive via mobile phone and the rather convoluted mobile text message services.

In those situations where Sky subscribers find they haven’t set their boxes to record the latest episode of Celebrity Trouser Press, and can’t live without seeing it, relief will now be at hand.

By grabbing the closest (compatible) Web browser, Sky subscribers bring up the Sky site, login and take themselves to TV Listings. The next seven days of TV programming will be brought up, and, when Celebrity Trouser Press is found, by clicking on the title, the description of the programme and its options are brought up.

Sky Remote Record Via The Internal

All that is needed to program the box is a click on Remote Record, and a subsequent confirmation to send the request to the box nestled under the TV at home.

Sky tell us that it can take up to 30 mins for the programming request to reach its destination, but it’s highly likely to be significantly quicker than that.

Sky Remote Record Via The InternalStrangely they have decided to impose a limit of 10 recording request a day via the Internet – but, in our view, anyone who need to remotely programme their box more than that needs help anyway. Those afflicted can reach for their mobile to carry on programming until their thumbs bleed.

Well that’s it. The remote programming circle is now complete. All ways to program your Sky+ box are now available … err, except the direct brain method. We await the call from Sky on that one.

Sky Remote Record

Sky To Pull Channels From Virgin Media: Offering Discounts

The spat between Virgin Media and Mr Murdoch’s Sky TV is getting uglier as Sky threatens to pull its Sky One, Two, Three, News and Sports News channels from Virgin Media at the end of the month.

Sky To Pull Channels From Virgin Media: Offering DiscountsThe frost started back in November last year when Virgin’s Richard Branson complained about Sky buying a £940m holding in the UK broadcaster, ITV. Branson jumped up and down and generally said how unfair it was.

A week ago Sky said it was considering a formal complaint against Virgin Media’s latest advertising campaign, which stated, “The cheapest place to get Sky Sports isn’t Sky.” Sky refuted Virgin’s claims, saying they were misleading.

Today sees the latest round. Virgin put out a statement this morning saying that they anticipated “a withdrawal of these channels by Sky at the end of February.”

Clearly angry, the statement continued,

“The nature of these negotiations leads us to believe that this outcome has been deliberately engineered by Sky in order to suppress competition and coerce Virgin Media’s customers into switching to its service by denying them access to the basic channels. (These negotiations do not impact Sky’s premium sports and movies channels which will continue to be available to Virgin Media customers.)

This view is reinforced by Sky’s decision to broadcast, at the height of negotiations on 12th February, a series of promotions claiming that the channels were about to disappear from Virgin Media’s network. This was nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt to exert undue influence on the negotiating process.”

Virgin Media claim that Sky has been asking for “a carriage fee more than double the existing arrangement.”

Julian Closer is reporting that Virgin will be offering up to £9.75 in compensation for the loss of Sky-branded channels.

Sky Anytime on TV Preview: Sky VOD

When is a 300Gb hard disc not a 300Gb hard disc? When it’s in a Sky box. The fruit of Sky’s much discussed drive partitioning was revealed today, with the announcement of a March launch for Sky Anytime on TV.

Sky Anytime on TV is a push video service that will populate users’ Sky HD (and some Sky+) PVRs with shows from the Sky network, plus Artsworld, National Geographic, Disney and the Biography and History channels. In a one-to-one briefing today, we got to sample the Anytime on TV service, not to be confused with Sky Anytime on PC or the yet to surface Sky Anytime on Mobile. For brevity, we’re going to call Sky Anytime on TV, SAoTV.

SAoTV consists of around 20 to 25 programmes, ranging from half-hour comedies to full length movies, chosen to represent the best of the weeks programming. In the wee hours of every night, a number of assets (between 1 to 6 hours of TV) will be pushed to the Sky box. At launch, every subscriber will receive identical content, although personalisation of SAoTV is ‘on the road map’, according to a spokesman.

Where it’s available, HD subscribers will receive their SAoTV content in High Definition and (in the first phase at least) all content is free from adverts, with the exception of an intro promo hat can be fast-forwarded through, like any Sky recording.

The SAoTV service enjoys its own instant access button – the red key – whose previous occupant (HD Channels) now receives its own menu entry. It’s presented in a similar way to the Planner screen, with the addition of a live video preview window showing a trailer of the highlighted show and some promotional text.

As new shows arrive nightly, older programmes are bumped down the SAoTV listings. Each programme has a clear expiration date, doing a Cinderella-style pumpkin vanishing act at midnight, seven days after its first appearance. If you want to keep a show permanently, you simply hit the Record button any time during that week to add it to your Planner.

The SAoTV service will initially be free and contain only programmes that have been previously broadcast, although Sky hasn’t ruled out charging for content or including exclusive previews in the future.

Sky Anytime on TV will be available to all HD subscribers, as well as owners of the most recent Sky+ boxes (those with partitioned hard drives): currently around 1 million households. Anyone who bought a Sky+ box within the last year should be able to use the service, although Sky will be writing to each subscriber to alert them.

Sky is also rolling out the Anytime brand to cover its Sky by broadband and Sky by mobile services.

Our take? The Sky Anytime on TV services is largely a win-win situation. Sky gets to promote high profile, expensive acquisitions like Lost, 24 and blockbuster movies – and we get to watch them free from adverts and without having to remember to set the timer (or rely on the occasionally erratic Series Link). Of course, it would be nice to see a wider range of channels on board (negotiations are on-going, but don’t expect to see the terrestrial broadcasters any time soon).

However, there will always be the argument that grown-up TV viewers should be free to populate their own hard drive as they see fit – which makes the timing of Sky Anytime on TV all the smarter. HD and Sky+ subscribers have had nearly a year to get to accustomed to their truncated storage space, making the Anytime service seem like less of an intrusion and more of a bonus.

Sky Anytime on PC: One Million Films In A Year

Sky Anytime on PC downloaded its one millionth film on the 14 January neatly marking its first year of operation.

The Sky Anytime on TV service is the renamed Sky By Broadband service, which delivers select Sky’s TV content over a broadband connection to a PC.

Sky Anytime: One Million Films In A Year

Figures for the film downloads could have been larger if Sky hadn’t had to pull the service back in September after their chosen DRM-restriction system, by Microsoft, was cracked.

We’re assuming that the million films that have been downloaded have been paid for, making it a pretty big bonanza, given the films are a wallet-emptying £3.95 each. Once subscribers have paid up, they’re given access to it for seven days, but are restricting to 48 hours viewing window after the first viewing.

Dawn Airey, BSkyB’s managing director of channels and services, was keen to say her piece about it … “We’re delighted that customers have taken to Anytime with such enthusiasm. Sky Movies is the UK’s most popular movie service and we’re able to use broadband to give customers more flexibility in how they watch. The fact that in this first year we’ve already seen 1m movie downloads is testament to customers’ willingness to embrace new technologies and get more from Sky.”

Sky report that the service has gained a quarter of a million registered users in its first year of operation.

Sky Surf, Speak, See Triple Play Package Announced

Sky has rolled out a combined TV, broadband and telephony package, regaling under the snappy moniker of Surf, Speak and See.

Sky Rolls Out Surf, Speak And See Triple Play PackageThe deal serves up the usual “up to” 8Mbps connection, and comes with a free bundled wireless Sky router and a fairly generous 40GB monthly usage allowance, which should be enough to keep most multimedia fans happily gorging on new content.

Also bundled in the ‘triple play’ deal – for that’s how we industry types describe these all-in packages – is over 100 digital subscription-only TV channels (plus over 200 other free to air digital radio and TV channels) and free UK evening and weekend landline calls.

The whole caboodle comes as a minimum one year deal priced at £26 monthly (with a one-off £20 connection fee) but punters will still have to shell out £11 a month to BT for the line rental

Sky Rolls Out Surf, Speak And See Triple Play PackageBefore you get too excited and start flicking your cash in the direction of that lovely Mr Murdoch, bear in mind that the service is only available to customers close to exchanges already unbundled by Sky.

This currently works out at around 50 percent of the UK population, although Sky hopes to crank this up to 70 percent by July.

Commenting on their new offer, Sky boss James Murdoch shrugged off the growing competition from NTL and BT boasting, “I would say we are more confident every day with our short, medium and long term prospects.”


Sky Anytime: Murdoch Flexes Cross Media

Sky Anytime: Murdoch Flexes Cross Media  Wow … things are really starting to gel across the Murdoch media businesses, as James Murdoch starts showing his hand. Perhaps this is the first real example of seeing James’ talent on with what we’ve been told was his passion – that for convergence.

First is a typical Sky masterstroke – naming their services with a fantastically concise moniker.

They’re re-branding the previously-named-to-appeal-to-techies service, Sky by Broadband, swapping it for the far more concise Sky Anytime.

The message – don’t worry that it’s broadband, that’s not important. What is important is that you … yes, you can pay to see content when ever you want to. In fact, you can do it – Anytime.

It’s genius. A typical application of what Murdoch publications do – speak to people in a language that they understand.

The simplicity of the service cleverly removes the need for talented sales people at retail, you know the type of store I mean … “Well Sir, it’s like Sky … but it’s available at Anytime.” Genius.

Sky Anytime: Murdoch Flexes Cross Media  A number of Sky One shows will be available over the service. Sounds great, until you imagine that 93% of the those using Sky By Broadband already own a Sky+ box – having the ability to see the shows when they want to anyway.

The second example – Sky One putting out its content on another strongly-branded service. Luckily it’s in the family – MySpace.

Two episodes of the watched-by-the-obsessed running series Lost were available until Sunday via MySpace UK for UK viewers only. Fans of Lost reacted angrily when Sky out bid Channel 4 for the current series. I suspect that Sky Inc, will see it as a way of perhaps signing up more subscribers.

They’re on the move
Here’s the reality – Sky is starting to work it. They’re small steps so far, but at least they’re actually doing what other people are talking about doing – moving media between platforms.

Here’s the worrying part for all people who hope to be able to compete in this Digital-Lifestyle. They’ve stolen the march on the rest of the market, they own their own IP delivery channel.

Ofcom Should Force Sky To Open Its Platform: Opinion

Ofcom Should Force Sky To Open It's Platform: OpinionIn an ideal world, waiting near the top of the new OFCOM boss Ed Richards’ in-tray, there should be a folder marked ‘Sky Monopoly’ and on it a brightly coloured post-it with the words anti competitive clearly inscribed.

Digital Television is a standards based system with the majority of the world using a system called DVB (the Americans have something called ATSC but that’s a story for another day), the UK’s Sky TV uses the DVB standard in most respects.

Pay TV operations rely on a system of Conditional Access (CA) where channels are encrypted, viewers with a suitable viewing card can decrypt the services they subscribe to, those who don’t subscribe don’t get.

To enable the pay services to operate with the use of ‘viewing cards’ the DVB system has a standard, the standard allows for different viewing cards to co-exist and for TV services to be encrypted by more than one encryption method at a time, the so called Simulcrypt (Simultaneous encryption, get it?).

Ofcom Should Force Sky To Open It's Platform: OpinionThe area where Sky has decided not to use DVB is for its Conditional Access encryption.

Sky TV which is controlled by News Corporation, the large multinational media company with Rupert Murdoch at the helm, uses a special tailored version of Conditional Access a variant of Videoguard which is produced by a company called NDS that is in turn, majority owned by News Corporation.

Now you might be curious to know why this matters, well as the majority of UK householders who watch digital TV, watch via a Sky TV satellite ‘digibox’ and to have a channel that can be easily received via Sky TV the channel must contract with Sky TV to appear on the Sky Electronic Programme Guide, commonly referred to as the EPG.

Ofcom Should Force Sky To Open It's Platform: OpinionIf that TV service then wants to charge the subscribers to their service they have to use that special version of Videoguard CA.

So what can be done about it? Well OFCOM can and should mandate Sky TV to open up its platform to other DVB CA systems and new entrants can then offer smaller niche services and a new competitive platform to Sky should emerge.

The BBC has for some time been promising a Freeview alternative to the UK’s dominant pay TV operation Sky Digital, but with it’s struggle with the government to secure a long term above inflation licence fee settlement and its desire to start a High Definition TV service, this cause has been relegated to the back burner.

As the government ordained switchover date looms ever closer, viewers who can only receive digital TV by satellite should be able to choose a non Sky alternative even at the risk of upsetting a powerful media mogul.