Sky (UK and Ireland)

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Type Pay television
Country UK
Availability Satellite
Founded October 1998
Slogan Believe in Better
Broadcast area
UK, Ireland
Former names
Sky Digital
Official website

Sky TV demo:

Sky (formerly marketed as Sky Digital) is the brand name for BSkyB's digital satellite television and radio service, transmitted from the Astra satellites located at 28.2° east (2A/2C/2E/2F) and Eutelsat's Eutelsat 28A satellite at 28.5°E. It was the country's most popular digital TV service until it was overtaken by Freeview in April 2007.[1]

Slogans Sky have used for marketing include "What do you want to watch?", "Entertainment your way" and the current slogan "Believe in Better".[2]



The present service can trace its heritage back to 1990 when BSkyB's predecessors Sky Television plc and British Satellite Broadcasting encrypted their respective film channels – Sky Movies and The Movie Channel which required viewers to get decoding equipment and a subscription to watch the channels. After the two companies merged, subscribers could get access to both channels, and later the sports channel Sky Sports also became encrypted.

In September 1993, BSkyB launched Sky Multichannels which was the present digital platform's analogue predecessor. Sky Multichannels was a subscription package that gave access not only to Sky's own channels but also those of third party broadcasters.

1998 launch[edit]

Sky's digital service was officially launched on 1 October 1998 under the name Sky Digital, although small-scale tests were carried out before then. At this time the use of the Sky Digital brand made an important distinction between the new service and Sky's analogue services. Key selling points were the improvement in picture and sound quality, increased number of channels and an interactive service branded Open.... now called Sky Active, Sky competed with the ONdigital (later ITV Digital) terrestrial offering and cable services.

The new service used the Astra 2A satellite which was located at the 28.5°E orbital position, unlike the analogue service which was broadcast which was broadcast from 19.2°E. The old position was shared with broadcasters from several European countries, while the new position at 28.5°E came to be used almost exclusively for channels that broadcast to the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In addition to most channels from the Sky Multichannels package, Sky Digital launched with several new channels that were exclusive to the digital offer.

The switchover from analogue to digital proceeded relatively quickly. In Q3 1998, there were 6 million 'multichannel' TV homes in the UK (i.e. homes that watch television other than the traditional analogue terrestrial), and over half of these homes watched television using Sky's analogue service. Sky's digital service surpassed the analogue service in terms of subscribers in late 1999.[3] BSkyB's analogue service ended in October 2001, and the digital service would eventually be marketed as just 'Sky'.

New Astra satellites joined the position in 2000 and 2001, and the number of channels available to customers increased accordingly. This trend continued with the launch of Eurobird 1 (now Eutelsat 28A) in 2001.


Main article: Sky+ HD

Sky launched its HDTV service, Sky+ HD, on 22 May 2006. Prior to its launch, Sky claimed that 40,000 people had registered to receive the HD service. In the week before the launch, rumours started to surface that Sky was having supply issues with its set top box (STB) from manufacturer Thomson. On Thursday 18 May 2006, and continuing through the weekend before launch, people were reporting that Sky had either cancelled or rescheduled its installation. Finally, the BBC reported that 17,000 customers had yet to receive the service due to failed deliveries.[4]

In early 2012, Sky released an update to its Sky Anytime service. This update offers customers the chance to buy and rent films from the Sky Store. In June 2012, Sky launched a new EPG for Sky+ HD boxes. The update included a new modernised look and improved functionality. As of 1 October 2012, Sky Anytime was rebranded as Sky On Demand which included ITV player and 5 Demand. BBC iPlayer followed in late Autumn with 4oD, launched in early 2013.[5]


Originally Sky launched with a set top box known as the Sky digibox, however, in more recent years the Sky+ and Sky+ HD boxes have launched alongside the original box. Sky+ is a digital video recorder with an internal hard drive which allows viewers to 'pause live television' (by switching from a live feed to a paused real-time recording that can be restarted at any point) and schedule programs to record in the future.

Sky launched HDTV services in May 2006. The first photos of a prototype Sky HD receiver began appearing in magazines in August 2005. All Sky+ HD receivers incorporate a version of Sky+ using either a 300GB or 500GB hard drive (of which 160GB or 250GB is available to the user) to accommodate the necessary extra data.


Sky maintains an electronic programme guide (EPG) which provides information about upcoming programmes and a list of channels. Channels available on Sky are assigned a three digit logical channel number which can be entered on a remote control to access the channel and determines in what order channels are listed.

The EPG differs depending on the viewer's location due to limited regional availability of certain channels or conditions relating to their must-carry status. For example, this ensures that viewers get access to the correct BBC or ITV region or that S4C gets a prominent listing in Wales. Viewers in the Republic of Ireland have the domestic Irish channels on the top of the EPG, but don't have channels from ITV, Channel 5 or BBC Radio listed by default. Much of the missing content for Irish viewers is available through 'Other Channels' but Sky+ viewers cannot record from 'Other Channels'.

All channels are grouped into categories depending on their content. What section of the EPG a channel gets allocated is determined by rules set up by Sky.

BSkyB has no veto over the presence of channels on their EPG, with open access being an enforced part of their operating licence from Ofcom. Any channel which can get carriage on a suitable beam of a satellite at 28° East is entitled to access to Sky's EPG for a fee, ranging from £15–100,000. Third-party channels which opt for encryption receive discounts ranging from reduced price to free EPG entries, free carriage on a Sky leased transponder, or actual payment for being carried. However, even in this case, Sky does not carry any control over the channel's content or carriage issues such as picture quality.

In October 2007, Sky announced that they wouldn't accept new applications to launch channel on their EPG, citing "very significant memory constraints" on many of its older digiboxes.[6]

The EPG numbering is altered frequently when new channels launch or receive new numbers. A few times, the EPG has been substantially altered. For example:

  • In early 2006, most channels received new numbering. This shake-up intended to split up the original ten categories in sixteen. For example, several channels that had been listed under the 'Entertainment' category where split off into a new 'Lifestyle & Culture' category while the 'News & Documentaries' category was split into two. The 'Specialist' category, which had included shopping, dating, gambling, international and adult channels was split into several genres.[7]
  • Following the integration of Living TV Group into BSkyB in early 2011, several prominent slots were freed up as many channels were closed down. It was, reported Broadband TV News, the biggest reshuffle in EPG positions for over a decade, with MTV, Comedy Central, Universal Channel, Syfy, News Corporation's FX, and 40 HD channels moving to more prominent places.[8]


Sky's standard definition broadcasts are in DVB-compliant MPEG-2, with the Sky Movies and Sky Box Office channels including optional Dolby Digital soundtracks for recent films, although these are only accessible with a Sky+ box. Sky+ HD material is broadcast using MPEG-4 and most of the HD material uses the DVB-S2 standard. Interactive services and 7-day EPG use the proprietary OpenTV system, with set-top boxes including modems for a return path. Sky News, amongst other channels, provides a pseudo-video on demand interactive service by broadcasting looping video streams.

Provided a universal Ku band LNB (9.75/10.600 GHz) is fitted at the end of the dish and pointed at the correct satellite constellation, most digital receivers will receive the free to air channels. Some broadcasts are free-to-air and unencrypted, some are encrypted but do not require a monthly subscription (known as free-to-view), some are encrypted and require a monthly subscription, and some are pay-per-view services. To view the encrypted content a VideoGuard UK equipped receiver (all of which are dedicated to the Sky service, and cannot be used to decrypt other services) needs to be used. Unofficial CAMs are now available to view the service, although use of them breaks the user's contract with Sky and invalidates the user's rights to use the card.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Freeview digital overtakes Sky
  2. ^ Believe in Better
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Sky HDTV launch runs into trouble". BBC News. 22 May 2006. 
  5. ^ "New Sky EPG 2012 – Should you let your customers loose on your betas?". Pear Digital. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  6. ^ "Sky to reject new channel applications". The Guardian. 5 October 2007. 
  7. ^ "Sky in EPG shake-up". Broadcast. 31 March 2005. 
  8. ^ "Why Sky EPG Changes Won't Shake Viewing Habits". 21 January 2011. Archived from the original on 29 April 2011. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 

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