Our duties require us to secure, among other things, the availability of a wide range of high quality TV services, in particular public service broadcasting (PSB). We therefore want to see an environment in which consumers are able to access the content they value on the TV platforms they choose.
Traditional broadcast TV is highly valued and continues to have enduring appeal, with UK consumers watching on average around three and a half hours per day. It also delivers important public policy objectives. The system of public service broadcasting is designed to secure economic, social, cultural and citizen benefits, for example the delivery of high quality, impartial news.
People watch these services via a range of TV platforms and Sky operates the largest pay TV platform in the UK, with around 10m subscribers. At present, Sky is subject to access regulation to ensure that other content providers can make their channels and related content directly available to viewers on its digital satellite platform, without being part of Sky’s own pay TV retail packages.
In addition to traditional broadcast TV services, there are three further categories of services that may be provided on Sky’s platform: (i) existing interactive services provided via satellite; (ii) existing on-demand services (such as the BBC iPlayer and other PSB Video On Demand (VOD) services); and (iii) future forms of interactive services, e.g. online or ‘over the top’ services that may be developed on new generations of Sky STBs.
The provision of existing services may require access to specific software services linked to Sky’s STBs. This access is enabled by Access Control (AC) services. Provision of AC services is secured by a Continuation Notice (“the AC Continuation Notice”). The AC Continuation Notice carried over regulation made under transitional provisions of the Communications Act 2003 (“The Act”).
This statement relates to the AC Continuation Notice. We are required to remove this existing regulation, but before doing so we are required to consider whether or not to set new replacement conditions under our Communications Act powers.
This statement discusses our approach relating to existing on-demand services and future services.
Existing interactive services broadcast by satellite include alternative videostreams, subtitling, and digital text services available via the ‘red button’. These services remain very popular with consumers. The BBC’s red button service for the London 2012 Olympics, for instance, offered access to up to 24 different simultaneous events and was used by 17.4m viewers on Sky’s platform. The BBC also provides access to alternative videostreams for other sporting and non-sporting events (e.g. Wimbledon, Glastonbury), as does BT with its sports channels. Other types of interactive services available have traditionally included voting, gaming and betting services, as well as on-screen commercial watermarking (e.g. the pint glass symbol displayed in commercial premises).
Some traditional forms of interactive services broadcast by satellite, such as information services, gaming, and betting can now be made available using the internet through devices such as tablets and other mobile devices that do not rely on interaction with a set-top box (STB). But other interactive services, including some presented on the main TV screen, can still only be provided effectively by content providers if they have a direct relationship with the STB provider. We remain of the view that many of the existing interactive services for enhancing broadcasting content are valued by consumers and that there should be continued access for third parties in a way that secures benefits to these end-users.
In relation to on-demand services, Sky currently offers content delivered from Sky’s servers via its Sky+HD STBs, including access to catch-up TV from the PSBs (e.g. the BBC iPlayer and ITV’s on-demand service) as well as Sky Movies On Demand and Sky TV Box Sets. Access to certain of these on-demand services is available via a link accessed using the red button, e.g. the BBC iPlayer.
The scope and functionality of these on-demand services is defined by the technological capabilities of Sky’s current STB. Looking forward, in future generations of Sky STB, such interactive services may be delivered using the internet. Respondents to our consultations indicated an interest in using new internet-enabled functionality that Sky may develop in future generations of STB to support new forms of interactive services and for the delivery of on-demand content.
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