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British Sky Broadcasting

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 began as Sky Channel , a free to air (FTA) service originating in the Netherlands, targeting English speakers throughout Europe. 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.

It was purchased by News Corporation, and relaunched as Sky Television in February 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° east. (News Corporation owns about 78% of New Zealand's SKY Network Television Limited.)

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 and now the Office of Communications.

The failure of a rival company British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) in November 1990 led to a merger, which was effectivly 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.

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), and 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° east), enabled the company to launch a new all-digital service, Sky Digital, with the potential to carry hundreds of television and radio channels.

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. Murdoch's son, James, became chief executive officer 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 also charge additional subscription fees for using a Sky+ PVR with their service.


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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45