The UK’s 1.3m Sky TV subscribers who own Xbox 360s are about to get a real treat. Instead of putting up with Sky’s archaic EPG they will soon be surfing Sky’s content using the slick Xbox Live interface. We were given a live demonstration of the service today and everything (well, almost everything) is looking good for the commercial rollout on October 27th.
Let’s get the slight caveat out of the way first of all: today’s demonstration from a central London location used a broadband connection to the production servers which will support the commercial service rollout. However, during live IP “broadcasts” one of Sky’s sports channels the picture was not 100% reliable, and occasional freezing and jerkiness was noticeable on several occasions. This would not perhaps be significant on a normal streamed video service to a PC, but it seems doubtful if TV viewers will be quite so forgiving. I’m sure Xbox and Sky will ensure that the commercial service is not plagued by these slight problems.
Sky’s Griff Parry, who heads the Sky Player group, and Microsoft’s Jerry Johnson, head of Xbox Live in Europe, offered a united front to the partnership, claiming that, after initial and understandable caution, both teams had worked together extremely well and with considerable mutual respect. Of course we have seen previous apparently rosy partnerships involving Xbox fail to deliver
, but this is clearly different. Sky would not be putting its substantial reputation for quality and reliability on the line if it was not convinced that the Xbox Live platform was robust, and the evidence so far (subject to the earlier qualification) is looking extremely promising.
the Sky programming sits behind one of the Xbox Live menu items in the Video Marketplace tab. As soon as the Sky option is selected the background and colour scheme become blue, reflecting Sky’s corporate image. The Sky menu items closely reflect the standard Sky TV EPG, down to channel and genre options. For relevant options there is the choice to watch on demand or live. In my view the biggest benefit of Sky on Xbox will be for Sky Movies subscribers to have access to a considerable library of true VOD movies on their TV set.
Sky believes there are two major opportunities from this initiative: first, to secure loyalty from existing customers; and second, to tap into a lucrative 20-30 demographic for which its traditional satellite-based distribution may not be appropriate. Sky is thinking here particularly of young males who have yet to “put down roots”, who may move home frequently, and who inhabit apartments where satellite dishes are prohibited. This segment is seen as prime Xbox owning territory and therefore ripe for upgrade to premium TV services.
Besides increasing the overall customer base, the Xbox Live platform offers Sky a new avenue towards advanced services. The early example of avatars sitting in front of a big home cinema screen watching live football together may or may not prove to be a gimmick. But a real opportunity for Sky certainly lies around integrating communications and content into exciting new services. Parry admitted that he sees headset-based voice chat during programmes as one of the most compelling opportunities in the early days of the Xbox Live venture.
We can only imagine the possibilities as Xbox continues to add peripherals such as the set-top camera/microphone – the crowd noise during live sports could soon become the sound of a million home-based viewers shouting at the TV screen . Given what has been possible before
, it would seem that Sky and Xbox together really can take the TV experience to a completely new level. If anything disrupts progress it will be corporate disagreements, rather than technology failings.
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