During the launch of Sky Glass last October, Brian L. Roberts, Chairman and CEO at Comcast, said it was “one of those few moments [in this industry] with the potential to be transformative”, declaring that what lay behind the television screen is truly game-changing.
He was referring to a user interface created for a world of hybrid linear and on-demand consumption across broadcaster and born-digital content, with a focus on content curation and easy discovery, backed by voice search – all created using the Comcast Global Technology Platform that is the basis for 75 million devices in the field including Xfinity X2, Xfinity Flex, Sky Q (Sky’s flagship set-top box), and the XiOne streaming box. As he pointed out, “Sky Glass takes advantage of all that global scale”.
Sky Glass is indeed an extraordinary event – a Pay TV operator, channel owner and ad sales house retailing its own Smart TVs. And the business model is unique: consumers buy the television outright or pay for it monthly, like a mobile phone, and a Sky television subscription is separate and works on a rolling monthly basis – so consumers can commit to the hardware over two or four years of installments but unsubscribe to Sky TV after just a month.
At The Future of TV Advertising Global last December, Patrick Béhar, Chief Business Officer at Sky Media (the Sky sales house), outlined the reasons Sky expects few people to drop a Sky television subscription, having bought the television set. And it was clear that this is not just about consumers keeping the content – the UX capabilities themselves would be partially lost.
Béhar made it clear that Sky will decide how it handles television-only customers (who have unsubscribed from the Sky TV service) after the television has been in the market for long enough to judge customer subscription behaviours (which might take six months). But for now, at least, without a television subscription, “Sky Glass becomes a simpler, less smart, connected TV.” Sky will maintain a television UI, but consumers will not get the full Sky Glass capabilities.
Béhar listed the reasons why Sky launched Sky Glass. First, the company felt that the consumption user experience on connected TV [including Smart TVs] was not good enough, with improvements needed in how users discover and surface content, especially. Second, Sky saw an opportunity to streamline the AV equipment experience – removing boxes and wires and even soundbars from living rooms.
Sky sees an opportunity as a television maker, with the three screen sizes available (43-inches, 55” and 65”) pitched at the majority-market that, according to Béhar, accounts for approximately 85% of the UK television market. And he made it clear that Sky is not interested in the top-priced television set market or the “commodity” smaller set market. “If you compare the sets, spec-for-spec, with other televisions in the market, Sky Glass is significantly better value for money,” he claimed, pointing to sound as one of the key strengths.
Sky Glass is not an attempt to get people to watch more Sky-created content or Sky channels, Béhar told the London conference, but it is an attempt to drive TV consumption in total. “We want people to watch more content, first and foremost, independently of where it comes from. We are a content provider, but this [the neutral drive for greater all-round viewing] is an important point for us, as a platform.
“One of the things we are incrediby proud of with Sky Glass is the way it integrates the different content partners, including streamers,” he said, turning to the relationship between Sky as a platform and its content partners. “The prominence, and ‘merchandising’, and brand and content attribution [given to partners] is very different to [other] connected TV.”
It is the combination of broadcaster VOD services and global streamers including Apple TV+, and the focus on well-executed super-aggregation [and Sky does excel at this – Sky Q is a fine example of how it should be done] that makes Béhar confident that consumers will buy the Sky Glass television and keep their separate Sky TV subscriptions.
Universal search (harnessing content metadata from across the platform) is a key consumer-facing feature of this super-aggregation. “When you search for a piece of content, Sky Glass scans across the whole portfolio,” Béhar explained. “That consumer issue of having to know whether Season One is on Channel 4 and Season Two is on Amazon Prime Video becomes a thing of the past. Our universal search is ubiquitous.”
Sky Glass does not replace Sky Q set-top boxes. It addresses a streaming-only market (there are no satellite tuners in the television). There is already a multiroom option for Sky Glass, where the new television is combined with the Sky Stream Puck (effectively and IP-only set-top box) for £10 a month. Béhar did not rule out the possibility of a ‘primary puck’ in the future that brings the Sky Glass OS/UX experience to non-Sky television sets.
Sky is one of the UK’s leading sales houses, selling ads across its own channels and a bunch of third-parties including ViacomCBS, and executing addressable advertising partnerships with both ITV and Channel 4. Sky Glass has important implications for the advertising market, and you can read about those here.
The Comcast group is making a concerted effort to expand its reach via Smart TVs. In the U.S., Comcast launched XClass TV (also in October last year) as an OS/UX on Hisense connected television sets sold via Walmart. This is the first time the Comcast entertainment and voice platform has been made available to consumers across the country, outside of Comcast service areas and without an Xfinity broadband subscription (cable operators in the U.S. have regional, albeit often huge, footprints.)
More on this subject
Pay TV operator device and household reach strategies will be explored in detail at Connected TV World Summit in London this May, when discussions will include operator-branded televisions and the direct-to-TV ‘operator as an app’ model, plus the developments in STB platforms from RDK to Android TV Operator Tier. For more details email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our original Sky Glass coverage is here.