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

sky broadband uk logo 2017

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” ( / 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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