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January 30, 2012

Sky buries the hatchet with the BBC

The BBC and Sky have come to arrangement which will see the old enemies in a state of truce – the BBC iPlayer will finally be available on Sky TVs.

By Vinod

Sky today announced a series of enhancements to its ‘push’ video on demand service, Sky Anytime, most important of which is the news that the BBC’s iPlayer will be launched later in the year. The ITV player will be available from tomorrow.

"Sky Anytime+ will go from strength to strength in 2012 and we are delighted that the addition of the BBC iPlayer and ITV Player will allow customers to also enjoy the best of terrestrial TV, whenever they want. We’re also delighted to be able to widen access to the service so that millions more Sky customers can enjoy the added flexibility it offers," said Sky’s CEO Jeremy Darroch.

Outside of normal TV viewing and time shift recording, Anytime allows users to stream movies and TV shows to their Sky receivers at will, similar to rival new media services Netflix and Amazon’s LoveFilm, which are rapidly dominating the nascent market.

Previously, only Sky’s broadband customers could access the Anytime+ video on-demand service. But the changes will now see Anytime+ available to all Sky+ HD homes by Easter – opening up an additional 5 million customers. Sky claims Sky Anytime+ is already available in 1 million UK homes.

Sky’s Pay TV rivals, Virgin Media and BT Vision have long had access to the BBC iPlayer through the TV.

"Having the BBC and Sky work together to further build on the BBC iPlayer success story can only be fantastic news for audiences. Making BBC iPlayer available on all platforms is key to our commitment to universal access and this agreement takes us one step further towards that goal. I’m delighted to take this first step on a story of innovation for both organisations," said BBC Director-General Mark Thompson.

This will see key programmes such as Top Gear, Doctor Who and smash hit Sherlock available to stream at will for Sky viewers – something that was long thought impossible given the bitter relationship between the BBC and Sky’s parent company, NewsCorp.

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Nick Thomas, Principal Analyst for TV and Digital Media at Informa Telecoms & Media says the decision is about pragmatism rather than idealogy.

"Sky has always been a deeply pragmatic company, and the nominal threats from new ‘over the top’ content (OTT) providers such as Netflix have caused it to put aside its ideological differences with its old enemy, and ensure that its customers don’t desert their pay TV service," he said.

Thomas believes the addition of Sky subscribers may see the iPlayer becoming predominantly a service viewed on TVs, rather than on PCs as it has been historically.

"At the same time, the shows available on iPlayer represent the ‘short head’ of on-demand TV content, the sort of shows users watch in large numbers within 24 hours of transmission. These are not only the most desirable shows, they are free. For a service such as Netflix, based on delivering ‘long tail’ TV content for an additional monthly fee, business just got a little tougher," Thomas said.

The new service will be accessible through the main Sky Anytime+ menu in the new dedicated ITV Player section. Later in the year, customers will be able to use Sky Anytime+ to catch up on programmes.

BBC iPlayer has proven hugely popular with UK audiences since launching in 2007, delivering a two billion TV and radio programmes in 2011 alone. BBC iPlayer is also available on mobile phones tablets.

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