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Comcast Hints at Future Plans for Sky and NOW TV in UK and Europe

Thursday, January 24th, 2019 (8:16 am) - Score 31,990

Cable giant Comcast, which toward the end of last year gobbled Sky’s pan-European TV and broadband ISP business with a bid of £30bn (here), has given some early hints about what changes might result from the purchase. So far all the talk is of “free” ad-supported TV content via sibling NOW TV and voice improvements.

The company’s latest quarterly results announcement to the end of 2018 marked the first time that Sky has been given a proper showing, although unfortunately Comcast kept to a vague approach and didn’t offer any UK specific details about Sky Broadband take-up, customer numbers or other plans in the fixed line space. This is disappointing but just a continuation of what Sky were doing before the deal.

Previously Sky have hinted at plans to launch a new router (Sky Q Hub 2) and Openreach based “ultrafast broadband” (G.fast / FTTP) packages, although alas there was no mention of either in the latest report but we do know that both are still expected sometime this year (a few hints we’ve seen point to both launching during Spring 2019 but that is unconfirmed).

However the related investor meeting, which saw senior figures from both Comcast and Sky respond to comments from shareholders and analysts, did appear to confirm that Comcast’s initial developments with Sky seemed likely to focus more on the Pay TV side of things (hardly a surprise since this is Sky’s bread and butter).

In particular Comcast’s Senior EVP, Stephen B. Burke, talked about harnessing Sky’s broadband based NOW TV video streaming platform and using it to offer “some of the most popular shows on television that we produce” for “free” to Sky customers in Europe, albeit supported by some advertising.

Stephen B. Burke, Comcast’s Senior EVP and NBCUniversal CEO, said:

“We’re just not monetizing as well online as we should. And so what we’ve come up with is we’re taking some of the most popular shows on television that we produce, and we’re going to offer them for free to 80% of the people in the United States, who are multichannel customers, for free to Sky customers in Europe, and also to people who are not part of the ecosystem at a fee that would be comparable to other people in the SVOD business.

This service will have a very light ad load of targetable ads. And we know there’s a huge demand for digital advertising, interactive digital advertising. In fact, we’re constantly trying to find more ad inventory because advertisers want to be in very, very good, professionally-produced content.

So our idea to enter the business is to leverage Sky’s technology, it’s called NOW TV in Europe, and also parts of what we’ve been doing at NBC and Comcast Cable. We think this approach has a much better chance to get scale quickly.

There’s nothing better than free for consumers, and we have enough product that consumers are currently viewing on other platforms online for free and charged that we think putting it all together in one place, very, very good technology, and then leveraging our relationship with Comcast Cable and Sky.”

Stephen said that the current plan was to launch this during the “first half” of 2020 and he added that they’re currently “spending a lot of time right now developing the technology” and getting the management team in place.

Meanwhile Sky’s Group CEO, Jeremy Darroch, added that they “really like” Comcast’s “voice platform” and plan to incorporate that into their own Sky Q TV platform in the future. At this point it’s unclear precisely what Jeremy was referencing, although we believe he was talking about Comcast’s AI powered voice remote control.

Both SkyQ and the latest Roku hardware that NOW TV uses already incorporate some degree of voice based control and interaction, although by the sounds of it this may soon be replaced by Comcast’s solution. “We’re only 15 weeks in, but encouragingly, I think we’re starting to see some really important, tangible evidence of working together as part of the broader group,” concluded Jeremy.

Otherwise we hope that one day Sky and Comcast remember that they’re still the UK’s second largest fixed line broadband ISP and start talking about that side of things a little more.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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20 Responses
  1. Neb says:

    Advertising… Noooo…. just let us keep paying what we pay for advert free TV. For anyone who has seen the US cable TV shows with adverts will tell you it’s awful!

    Meanwhile with them staying quiet on the fixed line broadband front, do you think their concocting a plan or are undecided still?

    1. Joe (the original not the who uses a small j!!) says:

      Given net neutrality and competition rules here Comcast can’t act in the same way as they can in the US

    2. davidj says:

      Id imagine they like any online service where you can watch content freely or with a charge will offer both. In a similar vain to youtube vs youtube premium etc.

    3. Mike says:

      It’s Comcast so likely the worst case scenario will become reality.

    4. davidj says:

      I think you will find comcast are one of the better rated US cable companies.

  2. Matthew Williams says:

    Hopefully we start hearing about Sky over Fibre again soon haven’t heard much about that in a while. U.K. infrastructure in the vast majority is perfectly capable of handling it unlike a few years ago.

    1. Joe says:

      They did sign a deal toi resell OR fttp so there is a obvious route

    2. Matthew says:

      Don’t think they even need FTTP for this do they ? Surely FTTC would work perfectly fine.

    3. Joe says:

      4K or 2160p is 25-40mbps depending on frame rate. So you can easily saturate Fttc with multiple streams (ignoring other use on top)

    4. CarlT says:

      Indeed. Watching live is higher bitrate anyway due to being unable to spend as much time compressing, has to be done in real time, and people rightly have an expectation of the same quality as other media.

      Sports coverage especially can be very demanding.

  3. Aled says:

    It is quite simple, I am happy to pay £7.99 for NOW TV entertainment and sort of OKish paying £9.99 for NOW TV movies. As of late they have started stuffing obnoxious long adverts for football matches and Sky TV shows into almost every TV watching session. If this changes in any way to include actual advertising, I will cancel my account within seconds and never look back.

    Do not underestimate the lengths some people will go to avoid ads. I would prefer to go back to casual piracy than accept free content ruined by ads.

    1. SuperFast Dream says:

      @ Aled, I feel inclined to agree with you somewhat (ahem, on the legal side of course :)). I too have become a bit frustrated with the self promotion they are placing in front of Catch Up TV on the NOW TV platform of late.

      I suppose their consideration of fee free based streaming if taking advertising does make sense, after all software packages (PC based) have been doing it for many years: ‘Pay to remove the advertising’ ‘Standard Free Edition v Pro Edition’ that sort of thing.

      One thing that must change though, throw all the advertising in you like for free viewing but for the love of god leave our your self indulgent promotional wish wash away from our Pay TV SKY/Comcast!!!!

    2. davidj says:

      Unfortunately some form of advertising when you watch most UK TV service via some type of TV or TV box have some kind of ads. On my sony TV i get ads when watching ITV player, 5od and more, even some other not so well known services which you do not always see when watching via traditional computer screen.

  4. Aled says:

    Yes, I was paying for a service with no ads, that now has 1-minute long adverts for football matches that I cannot stop, fast-forward, plus the volume is always cranked up to the absolute maximum. I do not even have the Sky/Now Sports TV package so that’s even more annoying.

    1. davidj says:

      So apart from the BBC pretty much like any TV channel?

  5. Gary says:

    Im just sick of all the American rubbish sky are now showing on there sports channels, im not American and dont live in America,im English living in England, if people want to watch this rubbish let them have their own channel so they can pay for it !!!!!!!

    1. davidj says:

      Errr Sports are seasonal so whatever sport you are into would you prefer only watching for that part of the year and the rest of the time pay for no content at all? A novel idea, Mr blogs only likes Tennis so for the other 60% of the year we’ll just broadcast him a TV test pattern for his money.

    2. CarlT says:

      You could at least learn the language if being English and living in England is so important Gary.

  6. Mark says:

    So as I read this, if your already a Sky customer, they will give you Now TV for free but with adverts, so I presume Sky Go will be scrapped?

    And if your NOT a Sky customer, it’s business as usual for Now TV, which is good as it’s a hell of a lot better value then Sky is! Although I’d be happy with Now TV for free with ads…

  7. Patrick greetham says:

    Will this affect sky’s plans for tv over broadband namely no need for a satellite dish.

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