Sky Picnic

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Sky Picnic was a proposed pay television service to launch from BSkyB. It would've sit alongside Freeview and Top Up TV on the digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform in the United Kingdom. It was first proposed in 2007 and was cleared to launch in 2010 – however BSkyB have never officially launched the service since.

History[edit]

The service was the subject of a public consultation by communications regulator Ofcom. The consultation was published on 4 October 2007 with the outcome originally going to be announced in early 2008.[1] Ofcom announced on 13 May 2008 that Sky's plans had been put on hold pending further scrutiny. Sky had placed the project on hold, while results from the consultation were awaited and it will now want to consider Ofcom's determination, challenge aspects it is unhappy with via usual or legal channels.[1] On 31 March 2010, Ofcom published conclusions to its investigations.

It determined that:

  1. Sky Sports available on all platforms: Sky must offer to supply Sky Sports 1 and 2 to other retailers – for example, cable, terrestrial and IPTV – at a wholesale price set by Ofcom.
  2. Sky pay services on terrestrial: Ofcom gives conditional approval to Sky and Arqiva’s request to offer pay TV services on digital terrestrial TV (known as “Picnic”).
  3. But dependent on a wholesale deal: Approval of Picnic is subject to Sky implementing a wholesale deal under the supply obligation for Sky Sports 1 and 2. In addition, if Sky decides to offer movie channels on digital terrestrial TV then those channels must also be offered to other digital terrestrial TV operators.
  4. Reference on movies: Ofcom is consulting on its proposed decision to make a reference to the Competition Commission asking the Commission to address concerns regarding the sale and distribution of subscription video-on-demand premium movie rights (but which cannot be addressed fully using Ofcom’s powers).
  5. Innovation on HD: Sky must offer to wholesale high-definition versions of Sky Sports 1 and 2. HD is a relatively new innovation. To help to promote future innovation Ofcom has not set wholesale prices for the HD channels but requires them to be offered on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

The Ofcom document outlines the benefits of the above decisions in offering the potential to deliver to the consumer: Choice, Innovation and Price and for the market a boost to competition, investment and innovation.

Sky will be required to make a “reference offer” – a template contract to other pay TV providers – within six weeks of 31 May 2010 according to the Ofcom document.

The consultation on Ofcom’s provisional decision to make a reference to the Competition Commission closes on 15 May and Ofcom expects to announce a final decision before summer 2010.[2]

During August 2010, Sky Sports 1 and 2 was made available on terrestrial pay TV services BT Vision and Top Up TV. It is unknown if this would cancel plans for Sky Picnic altogether.

Proposal[edit]

Sky currently[when?] broadcasts three free-to-air services as part of Freeview on the digital terrestrial platform. These channels are Sky News, Pick TV and Challenge on Multiplex C (COM5 post switchover), as well an interactive service available on compatible set-top boxes known as Sky Text. The submission stated that Sky planned to use the space they have on Multiplex C for a pay TV service offering at least five pay TV channels,[1] which would be Sky Sports 1, Sky Movies Showcase, Sky1, the Disney Channel and the Discovery Channel.[3][4] It would also offer at least one free-to-air channel that would be available through both Sky Picnic and Freeview, Sky News, and a free-to-air interactive service, Sky Text. However, broadcasting hours for Sky News would be reduced to 18:00–19:00 if Sky is not able to use at least four streams for the service. The remaining free-to-air channels, Pick TV and Challenge, will most likely be removed from Freeview.[1]

The first stream would broadcast Sky Sports 1.[1]

The second stream would broadcast Sky Movies Showcase from 18:00 to around 03:00 in the morning. The Disney Channel Preview would then start from where Sky Movies Showcase finishes and end at 06:00, when the Disney Channel starts up.[1]

The third stream would broadcast Discovery Channel from 06:00 to 18:00. Sky News would broadcast from 18:00 until 19:00, allowing Sky1 to take over until 06:00.[1]

However, should the company later acquire permission to broadcast on more of Multiplex C, the fourth stream would be used to continue Sky News on a 24/7 basis, while Sky1 broadcast hours would be increased to start at 18:00.[1]

Sky also plans to use a conditional access system supplied by NDS Group for the Picnic service. This will be a different conditional access technology to that used by Top Up TV which is already on the platform.[1]

Format[edit]

Sky is currently[when?] using the MPEG-2 compression format which is currently used by its free-to-air services. They indicated to Ofcom in the consultation document that they would like to move over to the more efficient MPEG-4 format in the future, allowing for further broadcast capacity. It has been proposed that set-top boxes compatible with the Sky Picnic service must support MPEG-4 (which is not currently used on the platform) in addition to MPEG-2. This would allow Sky to implement MPEG-4 without customers needing to upgrade their set-top box. Ofcom is yet to decide on whether MPEG-4 can be used on the DTT platform, and as part of this and other consultation processes, it is determining whether this is a viable option in the future.[1]

Suspension[edit]

Sky had suspended the Picnic project with effect from 12 September 2008, pending the result of Ofcom's consultation into the service. Sky announced that they have completed all preparations for the service, and there was now no further work to be carried out for the launch to take place. 28 jobs were affected. A spokesperson for BSkyB commented: "We want to invest in Picnic because it will be good for consumers and a good opportunity for Sky but the blunt truth is that Ofcom has spent 18 months looking at our proposals and there is no end in sight." [5] The lifting of the suspension and progression with the remaining stages towards launch are now with Sky to consider following Ofcom's determination on 31 March 2010.

Compatibility[edit]

Sagem Picnic-ready set-top box

Although Picnic has been suspended, a series of set-top boxes, branded as Picnic-ready, were made available in Currys stores throughout the UK in late 2009.[6] The boxes were manufactured by Sagem and are standard definition versions of their ITD81 receivers with a NDS compatible card slot. They were sold cheaply by Currys as standard Freeview boxes at around £20. While they do carry the Picnic logo, any mention of the pay TV service on the packaging was covered by dark labelling. They had proven popular among enthusiasts in the Republic of Ireland as their MPEG-4 capability allowed them to receive the RTÉ NL DTT service tests, now known as Saorview.[7] The Picnic STB can no longer receive RTÉ Two as it is now transmitted in HD with no SD simulcast, because the Picnic STB is not capable of decoding MPEG-4 streams which are HD.[8]

References[edit]

External links[edit]