Sky confirms 3D TV launch

By Julian Clover

July 30, 2009

BSkyB has announced plans to launch the UK’s first 3D television service. The move comes after the satcaster reported the highest increase in subscriber numbers for five years. The launch of push VOD is also slated for 2010.

The new 3D channel is expected to offer a broad mix of programming including movies, entertainment and sport. It will use the existing HD infrastructure, meaning that the 1.313 million Sky+ HD households will already have the reception technology in place, though the purchase of a compatible 3DTV set will be required.

The move is likely to be greeted with accusations that Sky has jumped the gun, introducing its own choice of technology before the final standards have been set. Brian Sullivan, MD of Sky’s consumer group, said the satcaster’s subscribers had already future-proofed themselves with the purchase of a Sky HD box. “3D is a genuinely ‘seeing is believing’ experience, making TV come to life as never before. Just like the launch of digital, Sky+ and HD, this is latest step in our commitment to innovating for customers.”

Already the Sky+ HD offering of over 30 channels in the HD format dwarfs the three that will initially be carried on the terrestrial platform. In a Cantos interview, Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch promised Sky would add more channels before the end of the year. “We think we can get to 40 or 50 and beyond,” he said. “Importantly, the high definition box that we’re putting into customers’ homes is a box that we can innovate from. So we can add more services, more value to the subscription over time.”

Sullivan also confirmed that the much-anticipated launch of a pull VOD service would take place next year, using broadband technology, and again taking advantage of the Sky+ HD receiver.
Almost by stealth, Sky has used the HD product to launch a series of next generation TV services that goes beyond the 33-channel HD line-up.
Darroch said HD had become the new standard for TV in the UK.

“We’re seeing an increased proliferation of HD devices in the home. Not only TV sets – there are around 9 million homes in the UK which have HD-enabled or HD-ready TVs – but we’re also seeing PlayStation 3’s and Blu-ray DVD players grow at accelerated rates. And, as a consequence of that, more content providers, not just ourselves, but broadly across the industry, are doing more work in high definition than ever before.” The satcaster also confirmed October as the launch date for its content over the Microsoft Xbox 360.

BSkyB added an additional 124,000 customers in the quarter ending June 30, 2009, taking subscriber numbers to 9.442 million. Announcing its 12-month results, the satcaster said the annual number of net additions of 462,000 was the highest in five years. The statistics underline the oft-stated premise that during a recession, families look to the sofa, and a cheaper form of entertainment.

Strategy Analytics said it forecast that Sky was on target to reach the much-touted 10 million subscriber mark by the third quarter of 2010. The consultancy said Sky’s ability to hold onto and even grow its subscriber base over the past year was in line with recent Strategy Analytics research, which showed that 89% of UK digital television consumers plan to spend “the same or more” on their television service in the upcoming year as they did in the previous 12 months.

The survey found that, faced with the economic necessity to reduce household expenditures, only 8% of Britons would drop their pay-TV service altogether –40% would scale back to a lower tier of service. “Digital television is surprisingly resilient to economic downswings, and one could even argue that Sky has benefited from the current economic environment,” said David Mercer, vice-president of the Strategy Analytics Digital Consumer Practice.

Added value services such as HD and Sky+ also continue to perform; Sky+ HD has added 534,000 households since January 2009, taking the total to 1.313 million. The regular Sky+ personal video recorder now stands at 5.5 million and represents 58% of the installed base.
Revenues increased by 7% to £5,323 million (€6,184 million), taking ARPU to a new high of £464. Operating profit was up 4% to £780 million.