BSkyB, Microsoft Partner to Bring Sky Player to Xbox Games Consoles

--Service to Feature Live Channels, VOD, and a Range of Interactive TV Applications

As expected (see the article posted on yesterday), Microsoft and UK satellite-TV provider, BSkyB (Sky), have announced a partnership to offer a version of the latter's Sky Player broadband TV service on Microsoft's Xbox 360 games console. According to the companies, the service will launch on the Xbox LIVE content service in the UK and Ireland in the fall (note: in their press release announcing the new service, the companies did not specify whether a subscription to the premium Xbox Live Silver or Gold services will be required in order to access it), and will allow Xbox owners to access 20 or so live channels, as well as on-demand programming. The companies say that details of the full channel line-up will be revealed closer to launch, but that the service "is anticipated" to offer "blockbuster movies, must-see entertainment shows, thought-provoking documentaries, programming dedicated to kids, music and the arts, as well as all the excitement of Premier League football, Test Match cricket and a wide variety of other sports through Sky Sports."

According to Microsoft and Sky, which claim that the new service represents the first time that live TV channels have been offered on a games console (note: the BBC's catch-up VOD service, BBC iPlayer, is available on the Sony PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii), the service will provide Xbox customers with a number of viewing options. While existing Sky customers who are equipped with an Xbox will "benefit from another way to view their favorite shows, in addition to the Sky set-top box and PC or Mac," the companies say, new customers who are coming to Sky via their Xbox will be able to access a wide range of live channels and on-demand content via a number of different subscription packages, and will also be able to view shows on a pay-per-view basis (note: presumably, as with the PC/Mac version of Sky Player, Sky customers will have to subscribe to Sky Multiroom or Sky Broadband Max in order to access the Xbox service's live channels without paying an extra monthly fee) .

Microsoft and Sky are also promising that the Xbox LIVE/Sky Player offering will provide a range of "unique interactive services." For example, they say, Sky Sports' live coverage will be supplemented by a range of interactive TV applications, including apps that allow viewers to use Xbox LIVE avatars to communicate with one another in voice or text in a shared virtual environment in real time via their broadband connection while watching a sports broadcast, and apps that allow them to check news, league tables and other information. The service will also provide interactive TV apps in association with other genres of programming, the companies promise. "Our partnership with Xbox is a further example of our commitment to put choice and control in the hands of customers," Stephen Nuttall, director of Sky's Commercial Group, said in a prepared statement. "Xbox owners now have a range of ways to access Sky content and can pick and choose the platform and packages that are right for them. We are extremely excited about the opportunity of reaching Xbox owners who are looking to experience Sky for the first time, as well as giving our existing customers yet another way to experience the content they love." Added Neil Thompson, head of Xbox UK and Ireland: "Our customers have told us that they want the opportunity to use their consoles as a way to access TV, and once again Xbox has pulled off an entertainment first with amazing content and rich interactive experience. The combination of Sky's leadership in content creation and aggregation and our own in creating a constantly evolving new generation of rich 360 entertainment experiences means we are one step closer to our goal of offering Xbox owners the best entertainment experiences out there, whether it's movies, music, games, interactive experiences or high-quality TV."

In related news: Microsoft announced today that it has sold 30 million Xbox 360 consoles to date, and that 20 million of those devices are being used to access the Xbox LIVE service.