Broadbandchoices.co.uk takes a first look at Sky’s online TV platform.
Having made its name as a satellite TV provider since its launch in 1990 - back when even Do the Bartman had yet to reach number one - Sky has announced that it is to launch a new venture this summer - an internet television service, called Now TV.
NOW TV will offer access to Sky programmes and films to both those with a Sky subscription and those without via a variety of broadband-connected devices, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets and internet-connected television sets.
Despite the service not being marketed under the Sky name, it will, according to the company's chief executive Jeremy Darroch, provide both the full Sky TV service "with the widest range of channels...and the peace of mind of a monthly bill" and a "more spontaneous, pay-as-you-go service".
This means that NOW TV subscribers will be able to wrap their eyes around Sky's most popular programmes, its extensive catalogue of films and, in time, more of its sports and entertainment television, for a monthly fee or by paying upfront.
Our online TV viewing habits are currently catered for by free services such as BBC iPlayer and 4oD, and the likes of LOVEFiLM and Netflix, which cover watching movies online, so will a pay-TV behemoth like Sky looking to establish itself on the internet further change the way we watch TV?
It seems the most obvious question to ask about NOW TV is "what is it going to give us that we can't already watch online?" Answering this question will involve some speculation, as details about what we can expect from the service are sketchy at present, with more details to be revealed "closer to launch," according to Sky.
However, it seems reasonable to assume that its unique selling point is that it will give users access to plenty of TV shows that are exclusive to Sky, as there would be little point in it replicating what is available for free from the online services provided by the main terrestrial digital TV broadcasters - the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Channel 5.
Sky promises that NOW TV will provide "instant access to some of Sky's most popular content," so it's likely that it will incorporate the latest series of some of the shows that Sky gives its satellite subscribers first dibs on. Many of these are US shows such as cigarettes'n'sharp suits time capsule Mad Men and gritty high school musical group drama Glee.
These kind of programmes, which make Sky the most popular pay-TV service in the UK ahead of those offered by Virgin Media (www.Virginmedia.com) and BT (www.BT.com), are likely to be used to give NOW TV the edge over not only terrestrial online TV services, but also the extensive (but relatively old) TV shows offered by direct competitors like blinkbox and Netflix, which also charge for access.
However, it may be film where NOW TV is most likely to appeal to the customers of its competitors.
The main internet movie streaming services in the UK, Amazon.com-owned LOVEFiLM and US-based Netflix, offer users thousands of films to watch between them, but a very non-scientific survey of each service would suggest that there is a gap in the market for one that offers newer releases.
For example, at the time of writing, the newest film available via LOVEFiLM Instant is Machine Gun Preacher, described by IMDb as the Gerard Butler-starring story of a "former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God," which was released in the UK in November last year. Netflix doesn't have a new releases section, which probably speaks for itself, but a quick flick through some of the titles on show reveals heartwarming romcom Hobo with a Shotgun, which was released here over a year ago, is the newest flick on offer by quite some distance.
Contrast this with Sky Movies Box Office, the satellite TV provider's pay-per-view movie service - The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, The Rum Diary, Moneyball, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1. All these titles were released in the UK less than six months ago, and will quickly be followed by many more.
With Sky announcing that NOW TV will provide instant access to "hundreds of films from Sky Movies" it remains to be seen whether this will include the latest releases that Sky Movies Box Office routinely has exclusive rights to. However, it if does then it is easy to imagine that NOW TV could become the online movie service of choice.
Whether NOW TV appeals to you may come down to how much the TV shows it has exclusive rights to appeal to you. With the difference in programming and the offer of pay-as-you-go access to those who don't fancy subscribing to the service, it seems that NOW TV is likely to act as a complement the likes of BBC iPlayer and 4oD, although that's before the fact that these services are free is taken into account. It should also be noted that it has yet to be divulged whether NOW TV will feature advertising like 4oD.
However, if NOW TV is able to boast new films at a similar rate to Sky Movies Box Office then it could come down to price alone as to whether it bumps LOVEFiLM and Netflix, and to a lesser extent blinkbox and movies on YouTube, out of pole position when it comes to our online movie streaming needs. Sky TV has never been cheap, and, with pricing for NOW TV yet to be revealed, it could be the key to rival online services carving themselves out a new niche as the way we watch TV and films continues to evolve.