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British Sky Broadcasting

(Redirected from BSkyB)

British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB - formerly two companies, Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting, which merged) is a company that operates the most popular subscription television service in the UK and Ireland. It also produces TV content, and TV channels.



Sky (UK) is a direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service operating in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It evolved from Satellite Television UK (SATV), one of the earliest satellite television channels, set up by Brian Hayes, formerly controller of Thames Television. Originally it did not have a UK broadcasting licence, and so was legally similar in that territory to the popular pirate radio stations of twenty years before. The channel broadcast a mixture of cheap Dutch-made programming (mainly from John de Mol Productions, which under their modern name Endemol Entertainment , made Big Brother for Channel 4) and U.S. repeats from the OTS-2 Orbital Test Satellite to a pan-European audience.

In 1982 Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation acquired 80% of the company and renamed it Sky Channel. The channel became widely available in Ireland in 1987. It was relaunched as Sky Television on February 5 1989. It was one of the first DBS services in the world to become operational. This was a four channel service on the Astra satellite at 19.2°E.

The Astra satellite was owned by a Luxembourg based consortium and controlled from there, but Sky's broadcasts originated in the UK and were subject to British regulation, originally by the Cable Authority , the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and now the Office of Communications (Ofcom).


The impetus for the relaunch as Sky TV was the refusal of the ITC to allow Murdoch to participate in the British Satellite Broadcasting alliance. This created a battle to win customers in this new multichannel environment. In the end Sky's earlier launch and leasing of transponders on the Astra satellite network allowed it to overtake its rival. In contrast to Sky; BSB suffered from the burden of building and launching its own satellites, more ambitious and expensive technology and higher capital expenditure overall, e.g. the construction of its Marco Polo House HQ in London compared to Sky's building in an industrial estate in Isleworth.

The failure of BSB in November 1990 led to a merger, which was effectively a takeover as few staff or channels moved to the new service, although a few programmes acquired by BSB did find their way to Sky One. The new company was called British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). The merger may have saved Sky financially. Despite its popularity, Sky had very few major advertisers to begin with, and was also beginning to suffer from embarrassing breakdowns. Acquiring BSB's healthier advertising contracts and equipment apparently solved these problems at a stroke.

Improving technology

The Astra satellite network began with the launch of the analogue Astra 1A in 1989. With the launch of more Astra satellites from 1991 onward BSkyB was able to begin expanding its services (the Astra satellites were all orbitally co-located so that they could be received using the same dish).

The launch of the first Astra 2 series satellite at a new orbital position, 28.2° east, in 1997 (followed by more Astra satellites as well as Eutelsat's Eurobird at 28.5°E), enabled the company to launch a new all-digital service, Sky Digital, with the potential to carry hundreds of television and radio channels. The Astra 2 fleet at 28.2° east maintains a geostationary orbit 35,600km from earth and was built by Hughes, now Boeing Satellite Systems.

Terrestrial competition

Once again Sky faced competition, this time from the ONdigital digital terrestrial television service (later renamed ITV Digital), and once more saw off its rivals partly thanks to aggressive marketing and partly because of its rivals' numerous technical and administrative failures. One of these problems was that its method of encryption was easily breakable. The supplier of the algorithm, Vivendi Universal, alleged in court that a News Corporation subsidiary was responsible for releasing the algorithm's secrets. News Corp made an out-of-court settlement.

However, Sky was more receptive to ITV Digital's FTA replacement, Freeview, in which it holds an equal stake with the BBC and Crown Castle International. Three BSkyB channels are available on this platform, Sky News, Sky Travel and Sky Sports News.


Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which was originally the sole owner of BSkyB, currently has a 38% stake in the company. It also fully owns the similarly-named Sky Italia and about 78% of New Zealand's SKY Network Television Limited. Murdoch's son, James, became CEO of BSkyB in 2003. This announcement caused allegations of nepotism from shareholders.

Sky utilises the VideoGuard pay-TV scrambling system owned by News Digital Systems, a News Corp subsidiary. There are tight controls over use of VideoGuard decoders - they are not available as stand-alone DVB CAMs (Conditional Access Modules); as such, BSkyB have a design authority over all digital satellite receivers capable of receiving their service. The receivers, though designed and built by different manufacturers, must conform to the same user interface look-and-feel, as all the others. This extends to the PVR offering - branded Sky+ - the manufacturers have to follow BSkyB's design criteria, and although this leads to many innovative features - such as instant Pay-Per-View (due to the ability to record encrypted streams and decrypt on play), many people think that giving the broadcaster such total control over the viewing experience (and viewing prices) may lead to some features that appear on other PVR systems will never surface due to the monopoly position over the decoding CAMs. BSkyB initially charged additional subscription fees for using a Sky+ PVR with their service; however, early in 2004, this additional 10 charge was quashed, albeit only to subscribers whose package includes two or more premium channels, to encourage existing owners to upgrade seamlessly. The Economist has suggested that News Corp would eventually like to merge BSkyB with its US satellite operation, DirecTV and possibly its Star network to form a global satellite TV company.


  • At the Races - originally operated by Channel 4; now owned by Sky
  • Sky Box Office - (Pay-Per-View)
  • Sky Movies Cinema 1
  • Sky Movies Cinema 2
  • Sky Movies 1 through Sky Movies 9 (these channels supersede Sky Movies Premier 1 through 5 and Sky Movies Max/Moviemax 1 through 4, but not necessarily in that order)
  • Sky News
  • Sky Mix
  • Sky One
  • Sky Sports 1
  • Sky Sports 2
  • Sky Sports 3
  • Sky Sports Xtra
  • Sky Sports News
  • Sky Travel
  • Sky Travel Extra

Joint ventures:

Sky and cable television

The other two major pay-TV operators in the United Kingdom are the cable operators NTL and Telewest. Unlike Sky, these companies do not produce a large amount of content of their own. They broadcast the main Sky channels, and this is one of their principal selling points. Thus they are not only Sky's rivals, but also its two most important customers. They compete with Sky on price, and are able to diferentiate themselves from Sky through their ability to offer bundles of services such as internet access and telephone service. Sky is allowed to restrict certain channels such as Sky Sports Xtra to its direct customers, who are also able to use certain interactive features of its programming which are not available to cable viewers. Competition between Sky and the two cable companies is regulated by Ofcom.

See also

External links

Last updated: 08-29-2005 10:11:09
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