Sky Q is more than a TV service – it’s Sky investing in its future

ByDuncan Heaney
Sky Q box

Whatever you think of Sky, you have to admit that the company is smart.

After weeks of hype, it's finally released its new TV service into the wild. Sky Q takes classic pay-TV features - exclusive channels, recordings, and on-demand shows - and smushes them together with those of a modern Apple TV-esque streaming box. Think apps, web videos, and the ability to stream music and photos from your phone - all very clever.

But what we like most about it - what makes it seem really  smart - is that it reveals that Sky sees exactly which way the wind is blowing.

It's blowing towards the internet

The way we watch TV is changing, and it's changing fast. More and more of us are watching shows on catch-up TV or as on-demand box sets, so having those features in a package is obviously a good thing. But Sky Q is doing more than that - it's future-proofing.

recent study by research agency Childwise showed that for the first time ever, kids are using the internet more than they are TV. When they do watch TV, they tend to stick to on-demand and catch-up TV - fewer than a quarter of teenagers watch TV live as it's broadcast.

Sky Q on iPad

In a few years, those snotty kids will grow up to be spotty adults, and it seems entirely probable that their viewing habits won't change. They'll want to watch what they want, when they want (as many of us older folk do already), and Sky Q seems designed to accommodate exactly that.

That's apparent in how you access the on-demand content - any show can be found through search with just a few letters. Type in 'G A' and Game of Thrones will pop up right away. It's about getting people to the things they want to watch extremely quickly, just like YouTube or Netflix do. Right now, it's a luxury, an appealing improvement to Sky's old navigation system, but it's what the incoming audience will demand.

Watching on the web

Sky also seems to be thinking about what people will demand. The Childwise study highlighted that video services like YouTube are the first choice for kids when they want to watch something - it's why we have YouTube stars now. But in 10 years' time, when today's kids are looking for entertainment, will they still be looking to these services?

Maybe. It makes me think of the evolution of video games. In my youth, games were very much aimed at children, with mascots like Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog dominating all. As the audience aged, the content shifted with them, with more aggressive action games with more realistic graphics - perfect fodder for teens. And now, as the audience matures even more, we're starting to see quieter, more mature titles that explore adult concerns like parenthood, or wider issues like cancer or immigration. In short, the content changed to accommodate the changing values of its audience.

Whether this happens to online video services or not, Sky's quietly positioned itself in a place where it will be able to accommodate people's tastes. Right now, that means partnerships with some of the biggest online video producers out there - College Humor and Funny Or Die, for example, plus apps like YouTube for anyone who wants to watch PewDiePie shriek at something.

Sky Q

Walk 'n' watch

One of the side-effects of online-focused viewing habits is that the living room has become significantly less important than it used to be. It's still the centre of the home, but more and more of us are watching shows on computers, tablets and phones. In fact, a recent Cisco study predicts that mobile phone and tablet use is going to grow at an average rate of 57%.

Again, Sky Q seems designed from the outset with this in mind. One of the most promoted features is the ability to take shows around the house: start watching in the living room, then pick up where you left off on a tablet in the kitchen, the bedroom - even on the toilet. Y'know, if you're into that sort of thing.

Future-proof

All this future-gazing aside, Sky Q is still very much aimed at the company's current audience. Live TV, exclusive shows, movies and sports - it's all here. It's not the cheapest thing in the world, which means it won't be for everyone, but it's certainly the most comprehensive option out there.

And it's that expansiveness that will be Sky's secret weapon in the years ahead. We're in a period of major upheaval when it comes to TV - what we're watching is changing, how we're watching it is changing and where we're watching it is changing. Whatever happens next, Sky's got the technology ready to react.

And that's smart.

 

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