Sky Anytime rebrands as Sky Player

18 05 2008

Proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, U.K. satcaster BSkyB has rebranded its online video service Sky Player, in a nod to the success of the Beeb’s iPlayer. New features include live streaming of its six own-brand TV channels, as well as progressive downloads allowing immediate playback of downloaded content.

The re-vamped service, which launched in 2006 as Sky by Broadband and claims to be the first U.K. mass market TV download service, also gets tweaked navigation and some personalisation.

Sky’s mobile TV service will shortly get the Sky Player makeover too, while its Sky+ push VOD DVR service, available to 2.7 million Sky homes, will retain the Anytime brand.

TV nets face up to growing online competition

25 09 2007

Variety reports on the latest online video forecasts produced by market analysts Screen Digest: the U.K. market for online TV will be worth £181 million (US $362 million) by 2011, but growth of the online movies segment is predicted to be slower.

There’s no doubting that across the Pond, the competitive environment is really gaining traction, as observed by the Financial Times: in the two years since that watershed moment when iTunes first started offering download-to-own TV shows from Disney, all of the major networks have scrambled to not only beef up their own sites, but also to broker those all-important third party syndication deals.

In the last week alone, Walt Disney-owned ABC has agreed a deal to syndicate its shows, for free, via AOL. The net joins CBS, which has been aggressively pursuing its own syndication strategy for the past few months, while, the online video aggregator site JV between NBC Universal and NewsCorp. is due to bow next month.

Hopping back over the Pond to the U.K., the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and five all have online catch-up TV services: the BBC offers the broadest range and volume of hours, while ITV and Channel Four are increasingly bolstering their catch-up offers with back catalogue shows. Satellite broadcaster BSkyB is broadening its Anytime service, with different flavours of the catch-up service available both via broadband and Sky+ DVRs; the company’s recent pact with Sony will also see an extension of the service for Playstation PSPs.

The Screen Digest research referenced at the top of this post acknowledges that established players such as TV networks also face competition from non-traditional market entrants, such as Joost and iTunes. Significantly, it may be players such as Apple and Microsoft, which stand to gain the most if they can finesse their strategies to leverage consumer relationships through ownership of devices, such as iPods, or the world’s most uniquitous operating system.

Four predictions of my own:

  1. The last year or so has merely been about positioning and trying to establish which online video offers work, and which don’t. Note CBS is moving beyond merely offering full-length TV shows online and gradually ramping up 2.0 functionality: conversational content. 2008 will see the space grow up considerably. 
  2. Whether it’s aggregators or TV networks’ own sites, online video offers are principally restricted to ‘walled gardens’ of content, usually from the operating network or a select few content partners. This is wholly alien to the TV viewing experience: consumers don’t watch shows from a single network or producer. The walled garden approach smacks of protectionism and, over the fuller term, it won’t last for all but the smallest handful of players. The creation of is the first acknowledgement by two major players that hybrid partnerships such as thes, which broaden out the available content offer, are the way to go. YouTube is further evidence of a successful broad-brush aggregation model – albeit with some copyright complications.
  3. The market is already overcrowded: come further shocks to the world’s stock markets (an inevitability), watch the venture capital evaporate. Incumbent players looking to second or third round financing, against a backdrop of unproven business models (let alone profit) will shutter or consolidate. Viacom had better be hoping that it can pick up the assets of Joost for a song.
  4. Apple TV and Microsoft Media Center are the first two examples of mainstream PC/TV convergence: but neither has yet created a compelling enough content offer nor low enough price points to give the products a reasonable run at setting the market alight, beyond early adopters. Next gen games consoles from Sony and Microsoft will up the ante by gradually bolstering their IP-delivered VOD offers, but even these may struggle to break through beyond gaming loyalists. Either some boffin will come up with the cheapest and most elegant plug-and-play convergence-enabler – witness what Freeview set-tops did for the U.K. market – or new product categories, such as networked DVD player / recorders or DVRs will hit that magic tipping point of attractive pricing and mainline retail distribution.

U.K. DBS operator Sky ups the broadband ante

4 09 2007

Like most developed countries, broadband access has been reduced to mere commodity, with price-slashing to the point of £0 making others wonder if there’s any margin left in the business at all (note the proponents of such moves are also the ones bleating loudest about how content providers should reimburse them for the heaviest levels of video-rich traffic).

Now first news has emerged that Murdoch-controlled U.K. satellite platform Sky — which already provides bundled high-speed access to its own customers — is to compete head on in the wider access market.

But the move belies a broader intent on Sky’s part: unattributed sources suggest it is focusing on a major ramp-up of its online TV offer. So on 4 Sep 2007 we see the first moves towards capturing a TV market which may not use the traditional TV set as its focal point. Watch this space.

Sony / Sky JV brings go-anywhere TV to the PSP

23 08 2007

Following news added yesterday that the European version of the PlayStation 3 is to get inbuilt TV receiver and DVR functions… 

Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) and BSkyB have revealed further details of their joint-venture entertainment service for Playstation PSPs, first announced late last month.

Launching early next year, the Go! video download service will allow 2.3 million PSP owners in the U.K. and Ireland to watch Sky content on the move, reports the Financial Times. A collaboration with telco BT will also allow PSP users to make voice and video calls via their devices, as well as the ability to send and receive instant messages.

For the entertainment service, customers will be able to pick and choose from individual programmess offered by Sky, or subscribe to content packages like sports, entertainment, or animation, adds Wired.

A tale of two DVR strategies: the pathfinder and the luddite

15 08 2007

Rewind to earlier this decade, when DVRs were but a nascent segment of the entertainment landscape and the debate playing out again and again in broadcast network boardrooms and future media conferences was DVR: friend of foe?

Jump back to the present, 17% of U.S. homes and around 7% of U.K. homes use DVRs. Despite some curious pieces of research from both sides of the pond, including NBC’s finding that viewers fast-forwarding through breaks had higher recall of the ads they’d seen, we all know the reality: the vast majority of DVR households:

  1. Skip through ad breaks.
  2. Are oblivious to the traditional 30-second spots running in these breaks (though it’s arguable that first in / last out spots, as well as sponsorship bumpers are creating impact).

As characterised by the years earlier friend of foe debate, there are still two classic responses from industry: embrace the change and come up with new ways of engaging audiences; or prohibition.

What better example of strategies rolling out on both sides of the debate than this interview with Brian Sullivan, BSkyB’s customer group managing director, and the individual who has been the driving force behind Sky+ being installed in over two million  U.K households.

Meanwhile at the luddite end of the scale, comes news that Time Warner Cable is to disable ad-skipping via its Look Back TV catch-up service. This from the very same company which ran a small-scale trial in the early 1990s of prohibiting ad-skipping on DVRs — unsurprisingly the feature, one of the key USPs of a DVR, got a resounding thumbs down from consumers. Yet history repeats itself…

Amstrad: “You’re hired!”

31 07 2007


The consumer electronics manufacturer used to be a byword for cheap and cheerful hi-fi tower systems, the company even introduced the concept of mass market PCs to the U.K., but now Amstrad (shortform for the Alan Michael Sugar Trading Company, after its no-nonsense founder Sir Alan Sugar, and sometime frontman of The Apprentice) has been sold to BSkyB.

For the last few years Amstrad has been churning out set-top boxes for the U.K. satellite platform, including Sky+ DVRs. The deal is to be worth £125 million, or £1.50 per Amstrad share.

A briefing note from industry analysts Ovum can be found here.

Edited 2 Aug 07 to add comment from coverage in the Financial Times yesterday: “Sky said the Amstrad acquisition would give it more control over the design of new products and help it accelerate development. Analysts expect Sky to use Amstrad’s expertise to create high-margin products such as high-definition set-top boxes and personal video recorders.”

Sky+ rocks

12 07 2007

UK satellite TV platform BSkyB’s latest set of numbers, announced yesterday, reveal that a further 207K Sky+ DVR subscribers were added in the quarter ending 30 June 2007, bringing its cumulative Sky+ subscriber base to 2.374 million (or 28% of its entire customer base). Now that Sky has scrapped its £10 / month subscription charge, expect similar stellar performance in future quarters.