Sky in the UK is about to dramatically evolve the Pay TV model with the launch of its own Smart TV that will contain the Sky platform built-in, and by making these available on a mobile phone type contract – with a monthly fee that covers the television set and the Sky TV services you take. The television set does not contain a satellite tuner; this is also the moment that Sky UK offers a full service solution (as opposed to its TV Everywhere Sky Go multiscreen offer or the NOW Pay Lite streaming-only service) that does not rely on satellite.
The new concept is called Sky Glass and provides a choice of three television set sizes, in 43-inch, 55-inch and 65-inch models (also in five colours). The specs are high: a 4K Ultra HD Quantum Dot screen with 10-bit HDR that supports HLG, HDR10 and Dolby Vision; 360° Dolby Atmos sound with powerful built-in speakers and sub-woofer; far-field voice technology; and Glance Motion Technology that brings the Smart TV to life when you walk past it.
This new product will be available in the UK from October 18, and will launch in Sky’s other European markets from 2022. As with mobile phones, Sky Glass can be bought outright as well as paid in monthly instalments.
Sky Glass is a platform: think of it as a streaming-only set-top box built into a television set. It has been developed by Comcast and Sky together and will be made available for other Pay TV operators (and telcos) to market to their customers. Australia’s Pay TV giant Foxtel has been announced as the first Sky Glass syndication partner.
“Sky Glass will launch in the Australian market as an element of the Foxtel Group’s future roadmap for its Foxtel brand and will contain both Foxtel and third-party content. This is the first of many collaborations as Sky Glass is scaled across the globe,” Sky said today.
In the UK, Sky Glass will include Sky (effectively as the default app/interface) plus other apps including BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Disney+, ITV Hub, All4, Spotify, Peloton and PlayWorks.
Dana Strong, Group Chief Executive at Sky, explains: “Sky Glass is the streaming TV with Sky inside, providing the total integration of hardware, software and content. Built on over 30 years of understanding what our customers want, this is a TV that only Sky could make. We believe this is the smartest TV available, and that customers will love it.”
Sky Glass features voice control (turn on/off, control volume, e.g.) and voice search. A live Restart feature means users can jump straight back to the start of a show that is already in progress. The television includes Intelligent Zonal Technology that improves dark and bright scenes, and it optimises both picture and sound based on what you are watching. Sky says this is the world’s first TV to be certified as a CarbonNeutral product.
Pay TV operators are no strangers to hardware, having shipped and then managed millions of set-top boxes for decades, but their presence usually stopped at the HDMI slot. In recent years, some operators have started to look beyond the STB, with soundbars or personal digital assistants the most popular CE hardware additions. Sky itself started selling a soundbar, called Sky Soundbox, in 2017.
In the meantime, the convergence of content, aggregation and hardware functions gathered pace in the CE space as the likes of Roku, Amazon and Apple grew their device presence (whether as an OS provider or hardware maker or both) alongside content offerings. And Samsung is one of many Smart TV makers performing the role of content aggregator for a growing number of streaming services (including linear channels).
As the world becomes more digital and TV slowly migrates to streaming, and more content is being watched via apps, and leading studios build out their direct-to-consumer offers that could, in theory at least, live independently of Pay TV providers, it will become easier for device makers to make a major play in premium TV aggregation.
Sky Glass is an example of how Pay TV operators can also accelerate that content/CE hardware convergence and take more control of the glass that is the final touchpoint for their services. So Sky Glass is more than an STB-free offering and more than the arrival of satellite-free full-flavour bundles from Sky.
These televisions are evidence that Pay TV operators can fight for control of the glass itself, which increases their chances of being the first home screen someone sees, which in turn makes it more likely that their content, and that of their partners, is going to be watched.
We used to talk a lot about the idea of a virtual STB where a platform operator appeared only as an app, inside a TV, but the assumption was that the television sets would be built by someone else like Samsung or LG, and even if the operator app became a default app (launching on start-up) the Pay TV service would have to compete with a separate UI (from the TV maker) that contained other apps and services (curated by the TV maker).
Sky has created the virtual STB Smart TV that was envisaged, but is providing the Smart TV itself, leaving the media giant (and any of the Pay TV operators that syndicate Sky Glass) in full control. With this product (which is additive to Sky Q, the flagship STB offer), Sky is cutting out the set-top box and cutting out the satellite and, where Sky Glass is installed, strengthening its long-term position in the home.