Sky Will De-Couple Pay-TV Content From Satellite For IPTV Era

BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) is acting to head off rising City concerns about the threat from over-the-top connected TV services, by announcing it will launch, by the summer, its own such service that does not require a satellite subscription.

The as-yet-unnamed and unpriced service will offer Sky Movies, Sky Sports and entertainment over a swathe of devices including tablet, mobile, console and connected TV. There will be no minimum contract and “a wide variety of pricing options”.

It may not look like it today, but this may turn out to be one of the most significant developments in Sky’s history.

Sky has offered TV to internet devices since 2006 but, currently, all such efforts, including Sky Go and the Sky News iPad app, are geared at providing enhanced value for existing Sky satellite subscribers. Where Sky has allowed non-satellite subscriptions, they have been so prohibitively priced relative to satellite that the idea has, in essence, been to drive satellite subscriptions.

The risk for Sky was that the new wave of internet TV services – including from consoles, dedicated boxes, integrated connected TVs that ship with thousands of free on-demand services and the emergence of cheaper over-the-top operators like Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) and Blinkbox – would tempt existing and new consumers away from the core Sky satellite option.

Already, Sky TV sign-ups are slowing – down to 40,000 in Q2, from 140,000 the previous year, Sky announced on Tuesday. “Some people are uneasy about making a long-term commitment right now,” CEO Jeremy Darroch conceded to City analysts.

So it is logical for Sky to turn that threat in to an opportunity – the opportunity to take its top-tier pay-TV content to a new generation of otherwise pay-TV refuseniks, minus the cost of satellite.

Consumers are expected to be able to subscribe to Sky on YouView; TVs from manufacturers like Samsung, Sony (NYSE: SNE) and LG; (SEO: 066570) Xbox; iPad and more.

Sky has been wedded to and defined by its satellite distribution system since launching it in 1990. But, by allowing customers to subscribe to Sky Sports, Sky Movies and so on directly on the internet TV they buy in 2012 and beyond, Sky is de-coupling its content and its distribution platform in the future.

CEO Jeremy Darroch told analysts: “It will give another choice to the 13 million UK households that have chosen not to subscribe to pay-TV. It will be a new way to reach out to consumers who love great content but have no need for the full range of Sky services.” There will be “no infrastructure investment”.

“Beyond the near-term slowdown, structural issues are looming,” writes Bernstein analyst Claudio Aspesi in a research note. “The unbundling of pay-TV appears a direct response to the launch of Netflix, but also seems to suggest that additional growth through the old model of bundled pay-TV through satellite is coming to a natural end in its growth.”