Sky to Use its Sky+HD Platform to Power 3D TV Channel, "Pull"-VOD Service

--BT Vision, Meanwhile, Reports Lowest-Ever Customer Growth

UK satellite-TV provider, BSkyB, announced last week that it plans to take advantage of capabilities provided by its existing Sky+HD set-top box and service to launch a 3D channel and a "pull" VOD service (i.e. a true VOD service, vs. the "push"-VOD services--such as Sky's own Sky Anytime--typically offered by satellite-TV operators). According to the company, Sky+HD--which it bills as "the UK's only high-definition service currently capable of broadcasting 3D services"--has now been taken up by 1.313 million customers, following record growth: it claims that the number of customers for the service has doubled over the past year and that over 90 customers are signing up for it every hour.

According to Sky, its new 3D channel--which will be the first such service to launch in the UK--will be rolled out next year, and will offer a broad selection of 3D programming, including movies, entertainment and sports coverage. It will be broadcast across Sky's existing HD infrastructure, the company says, and will be supported by the current generation of Sky+HD set-tops. However, in order to watch the channel in 3D, customers will have to purchase new "3D-Ready" TV sets, which are expected to go on sale in the UK next year, and will have to wear special polarizing glasses (which help direct the correct left or right on-screen image to the corresponding eye).

Sky says that the launch of the new 3D channel follows extensive research and development activity on 3D, which included the 3D broadcast of a live event: on April 2nd, Sky successfully broadcast a performance by Keane live from Abbey Road Studios via its satellite network to a Sky+ HD set-top and a domestic 3D-Ready TV. The company claims that it was the first TV company in Europe to broadcast a live event in 3D.

Sky says that its new "pull"-VOD service, meanwhile, will also launch next year. According to the company, the new service--which will take advantage of the Sky+HD box's existing broadband connectivity--will feature a "comprehensive" line-up of content. UK cable operator, Virgin Media, already offers a comprehensive VOD service, which, among other things, provides access on the living-room television set to the BBC's iPlayer catch-up service. "Well over a million homes have future-proofed themselves with Sky+HD, a platform for choice, quality and future innovation," Brian Sullivan, managing director of Sky's Customer Group, said in a prepared statement. "With Sky+ as standard, our customers are already enjoying amazing picture and sound quality on a range of high-quality HD channels which cater to the interests and passions of the whole family. Next year we will make our HD boxes work even harder for customers by launching Europe's first 3D TV channel, as well as introducing a comprehensive video-on-demand service to complement Sky+ and the current Sky Anytime service."

Sky says that it will provide more information on its new 3D TV and "pull"-VOD services, including pricing, packaging and entitlement, closer to their launch.

In other VOD news from the UK: Incumbent telco, BT, revealed last week that BT Vision, its Microsoft Mediaroom-powered, interactive TV-enabled hybrid IPTV service (note: the service is enabled via a hybrid set-top box that allows viewers to access linear channels from the UK's free-to-air digital terrestrial platform, Freeview, alongside IP-delivered on-demand and interactive content), added only 10,000 net new customers during the second quarter. While the service--which had a total of 433,000 customers as of June 30th--added 38,000 new customers during the quarter, BT said that the figure was adjusted "for inactive customers." The figure represents the lowest-ever quarterly customer-growth number for the service, which added 25,000 new customers in the first quarter. In June, BT Vision's then-CEO, Dan Marks, stepped down unexpectedly, reportedly due to his frustration with UK satellite-TV provider BSkyB's dominance of Premiership soccer coverage, which he blamed for BT Vision's anemic take-up.