Sky, that nice cuddly, and not at all aggressive, broadcaster has made two shock announcements. First it intends to launch a free-to-air satellite platform of nearly 200 channels. Second, it is to be the first major broadcaster to bring high definition TV to the UK.
This is indeed welcome news. But it does rather beg the question ‘what’s in it for Sky?’ – an organisation not exactly known for its big hearted generosity. Well, quite a lot we reckon. Launching a free to air satellite service will give Sky the perfect opportunity to ‘upsell’ homes to the subscription packages as well as individual pay per view broadcasts – and believe me they will. Meanwhile the cachet of being the first broadcaster to go HD is potentially enormous, especially with techies who will probably pay a premium to watch High Def content on their plasma screens.
Let’s look at those announcements in full:
Sky claims it will launch almost 200 TV and radio channels and interactive services later this year. But the channels on offer haven’t been announced yet. We reckon that most of them will be radio stations and the TV stations which will be available will all be fairly lame – mainly +1 hours versions of existing channels. Will we see channels like UK Gold/Style etc go free to air, something that has been talked about for some time?
Also it’s worth remembering that Sky was the network that effectively scrapped free to air satellite when the BBC, which operated and paid for the free card system, pulled out of Sky’s encryption packages last year (OK, ITV/Channel4/Five didn’t put their hands in their corrporate pockets either.) The end result is that you currently have to pay Sky over £13 a month for the privilege of watching channels that are free on the analogue platform – hardly an incentive to go digital!
Our guess is that Sky made the decision to launch the service, knowing that at some point it was going to get blasted by the government for its tactics. But it is only a guess! Remember the government is supposed to be switching us all over to digital by 2010 so it can flog off the frequencies.
In any case the free package isn’t exactly free. You still have to pay £150 for the box, mini dish and viewing card – about twice the price of a digital terrestrial Freeview box, but fair enough we reckon given the better picture/sound quality, potential extra services and half decent EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) – something digital terrestrial has been unable to do despite several years of broadcasting.
High Definition TV
Sky comes in for a lot of stick (including from ourselves) but it has actually been something of a pioneer when it comes to technical innovation. It launched the UK’s first digital TV service, first interactive TV service and first digital PVR (the excellent Sky+). Now it is planning to bring HDTV to the UK by 2006. We don’t know exactly what the format will be yet but the press release says there will be a set of dedicated HD channels as well as selected events in the HD format. Currently the only European high definition TV channel is the satellite-delivered Euro 1080 (www.euro1080.tv).