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.

Advertisements




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 Hulu.com, 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 Hulu.com 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.




Analyst: TV downloads ‘use underhand tactics’

30 07 2007

So says Jupiter Media broadband analyst Mike Fogg, quoted in The Guardian today.

Mr Fogg warns that new U.K. download services such as BBC iPlayer, 4oD and Sky Anytime use [the same Kontiki] software which continues to upload downloaded file fragments in the background, even though the requested piece of content may already have finished downloading. “Many will notice that their internet connections may be running slower, but will not necessarily know why,” the sage of Jupiter adds.

Welcome to the wonderful world of peer-to-peer, Mr Fogg, it’s the way the technology works. You get something and act as partial onward distributor for others who may want the same thing. Slower connection speeds could as attributable to ISPs throttling speeds for heavier users, as it is to the Kontiki app. itself.

The analyst may have a point though when it comes to transparency from the content providers themselves: information on how to turn the Kontiki app. off, however, would be counter-productive as it reduces the available pool of onward distributors.

But then again, as he also observes: “Other peer-to-peer programs such as Skype and Joost [coincidentally from the same people] – which do not behave in this way – have come from people who understand how the internet works… These guys [BBC, Channel 4, Sky] are broadcasters and don’t necessarily have the same understanding.”

In a not entirely unrelated development, New Media Markets [sorry, subscription only] last week reported that the U.K.’s Virgin Media is to cap connection speeds for heavier users at time of peak demand (4pm-12 midnight) across its entire network, following successful trials earlier this year. A user on a 20 Mbit/sec contract exceeding a 3GB download threshold, for example, would typically have the tap turned down by 5 Mbit / sec. The restriction remains in place for four hours.

Nothing particularly novel about turning the tap up and down, it’s common practice by U.K. ISPs to help manage capacity. What is new is the end of Virgin Media’s truly ‘unlimited’ broadband offer, a U.S.P in the U.K. consumer broadband sector (at least for the price). On balance, p2p traffic figures do bear out that Virgin has a disproportionate number of heavier users vs. other U.K. ISPs. But speaking of transparency, how are Virgin proposing to announce this to customers?