Sky's European Internet strategy may eventually be a pointer to NZ

In an attempt to make up for a late start on the Internet, British Sky Broadcasting Group (BSkyB) now will pursue an aggressive Internet and electronic commerce strategy.

          In an attempt to make up for a late start on the Internet, British Sky Broadcasting Group (BSkyB) now will pursue an aggressive Internet and electronic commerce strategy, the company announced yesterday.

          Given that Sky Television in New Zealand has eventually tended to follow its European sibling on technology choices, BSkyB's plan may have an impact here.

          As part of its new strategy, BSkyB will invest 250 million pounds $US403 million over the next 18 months in Sky New Media Ventures, which encompasses sky.com and skysports.com, the company said in a statement which also outlined its results for the six months ended Dec. 31, 1999.

          The UK-based broadcasting company plans to invest in ADSL services, offer content over mobile phones using WAP (wireless application protocol) technology and build up its e-commerce capabilities, BSkyB said.

          In addition, BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's News owns a 40% stake, also announced a number of strategic partnerships as part of its new media push.

          - BSkyB and Kingston Communications have entered into a joint venture to provide broadband entertainment and multimedia services via ADSL telephone lines. Services will include digital television, video-on-demand, Internet access, e-mail and local information, the companies said in a joint statement.

          The joint venture, which is expected to be finalised within the next two months, will be a 50-50 partnership with Kingston Communications supplying the ADSL network technology and infrastructure. BSkyB will be responsible for the content, management and marketing of the services, the companies said.

          Kingston Communications currently serves the East Yorkshire network area, but the agreement extends the possibility of expanding the services across the whole of the UK, the companies said.

          Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, BSkyB spokeswoman Nicola Holmes said.

          - BT Cellnet, a unit of British Telecommunications, and BSkyB are in negotiations to make Sky content available over BT Cellnet's Genie Internet portal, the companies said in a statement.

          If a deal is reached between BSkyB and BT Cellnet, Sky content will be made available to users over mobile telephones using SMS (short messaging service), GPRS (general packet radio service) and WAP technologies, the companies said.

          BT Cellnet's Genie Internet portal began offering information -- including news, sports, entertainment and stock prices, as well as content from other providers such as the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) -- via WAP technology last month. [See "BT Cellnet Puts Internet Strategy to Work," Jan. 24.]

          Though negotiations between BT Cellnet and BSkyB are in an advanced enough state to be announced publically, a time frame for a finalised deal was not available, Holmes said.

          - InFront Limited, which trades under the name Streets Online, and BSkyB have entered into a partnership where BSkyB has taken a 14 percent share in the Internet retailer, the companies announced in a statement. Sky.com already links to the Street Online site http://www.audiostreet.infront.co.uk, but will now also link to Street Online's books and DVD online properties, the companies said.

          BSkyB and InFront/Streets Online declined to reveal the financial terms of the deal, Holmes said.

          - Along with heavy investments in the Sky Sports Web site, BSkyB will launch its own online sports store and e-commerce site which is BSkyB's first stand-alone e-commerce initiative, Holmes said.

          Clothes and equipment for sports shown over Sky TV, including soccer, cricket, golf and rugby, will be sold online, BSkyB said.

          As part of the new media investment program, BSkyB is upgrading its contact centers in Scotland with a 50 million pound investment. The call centers, already employing 4,000 full-time staff, will be upgraded to offer account, billing and other information and services over Sky's digital TV set top boxes, the Internet and mobile telephone services, BSkyB said.

          The upgraded contact centers will also be used as a base to further expand e-commerce businesses, BSkyB said.

          In its statement outlining its results for the six months ended Dec. 31, 1999, BSkyB reported a pretax loss of 61.5 million pounds that the company accredited to the launch of BSkyB's digital television services. In comparison, BSkyB profits were 53.2 million pounds over the same period the year before, BSkyB said.

          Revenue, meanwhile, grew 13% to almost 850 million pounds from 753 million pounds in the same period a year earlier.

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