Things are changing at Sky TV, and from the spring we’ll be seeing a new strategy at Sky. The company are to radically change their TV guide function this spring, with the launch of a system which takes the initiative away from ‘live’ towards ‘whenever’. The move comes in light of an increasing number of their customers who’re choosing to access SKY via their connected app, as well as users who are using Sky as an on-demand catchup aggregator. The new Electronic programme guide (EPG) will cater for both usages, whilst also helping the company to launch their next phase of their evolution, in the light of heightened competition from noisy neighbours and newfound cable competitors, BT.
Last summer Sky launched ‘project purple’, which was an initiative with one singular aim – to counteract the aggressive moves made in the sports broadcasting segment of their business by BT. Sport has been the bedrock of the Sky business for a generation, and the broadcaster effectively heralded in the Premier League era. At Sky’s plush HQ in Victoria, London, there’s increasingly a sense of panic surrounding the situation with BT. The subsequent stealing of the Champions League rights – which from 2015 will be exclusively BT’s – as well as a number of irritating jabs, not least the booking of former Sky football commentator Andy Gray for an FA cup game last week, have all added to a sense of unease around the sports situation.
Its long been assumed that Sky TV would effectively ‘die away’ without the Trojan horse of live football. Losing the Premier League rights has always been the doomsday scenario for Murdoch’s company, but increasingly there’s the feeling that that scenario may arise when the rights come back up for auction. Its increasingly clear that a new strategy is needed at Sky, and this is seemingly going to focus around the company acting as a media hub, brining the content you want to you at the moment you want to watch it.
TV has always been a bout a lot more than ‘live’. Some of the most popular TV shows are decades old, and are recycled periodically at set times of the year. Technology has taken the booking initiative away from the TV programme manager and put it firmly into the hands of the viewer. The enormous popularity of cult TV shows – take Breaking bad at the moment as a fine example – leads to periods of compulsive viewing amongst the early adopter market.
Todays young adults prefer to view what they want, when they want it. They split their media time between multiple devices, with radical and pronounced swings between devices and media usage in ‘micro-trends’. One week’s media consumption could be dominated by a particularly catchy iPad game. The next week, a friend could put the user on to a new TV show, which leads to two weeks of heavy TV viewing. The week after, there could be nothing on TV of interest – isn’t it amazing how often that’s the case when you have 500 channels? – and the TV subsequently acts merely as a backdrop, with focus spent more on web browsing. This is fluid user behaviour, and Sky see to have realised this.
Of course, there’s always going to be a huge ‘live element’ to TV though. Great sporting moments have to viewed live, and the huge numbers drawn for events like the upcoming Superbowl or the Fifa World Cup this summer, amply demonstrate this. The World cup will likely be watched live by more than 1 billion people, so don’t doubt the enduring popularity of live TV. These are special occasions though, and don’t illustrate the average Tuesday night.
If Sky can no longer compete with the likes of BT – its an often forgotten fact that BT have hugely larger revenues than Sky dwarfing them with £18b to £6 billion a year – then its clear that Sky need a strategy that will work for that average Tuesday night. A new TV guide, with easy access to massive bulks of content when you want it, with quick access to new releases and a big back-catalogue of movies, will go a long way to saving the company when doomsday comes.
Will the new Sky strategy movement from ‘live’ to ‘whenever’ save the company when they lose the football? It’s too early to say, but it sure looks like the company are laying the foundations for the next phase of their evolution.