Sky is putting the finishing touches to an advanced set-top box, dubbed SkyQ, that it hopes will be a powerful weapon in its defence of its domestic pay-TV business against BT and help it integrate its European operations.
The new hardware is due to be unveiled within weeks and will offer satellite households an “Apple and Netflix-style” experience, according to industry insiders.
SkyQ, developed at maximum speed under the codename “Project Ethan”, is understood to allow subscribers to watch and record at least four programmes simultaneously on multiple devices throughout the home. It will wirelessly beam content to smartphones and tablets around the home, and is ready to receive ultra-high definition broadcasts once Sky follows BT to offer sharper pictures for the latest televisions.
An informed industry source who has seen SkyQ in action said it was “really very slick” and compared its user interface to Netflix and Apple TV, with programmes presented on a carousel in a “much more visual” format than on the current Sky HD+ box.
The software will learn viewers’ preferences to make suggestions of programmes they might like, and blur the lines between live broadcast, recorded content, and on-demand over the internet.
In preparation for the launch, Sky has also renegotiated its rights deals with broadcasters to allow it to “side-load” programmes from the SkyQ box onto mobile devices.
The launch will be a landmark for Sky, as it seeks to maintain its pay-TV dominance. SkyQ is designed to give it a big technological lead over BT, which uses the YouView set-top box for its pay-TV service.
BT executives have acknowledged that the YouView technology, developed in partnership with TalkTalk and Britain’s public service broadcasters, is out of date.
Gavin Patterson, the chief executive of BT, told The Telegraph he wanted to accelerate development.
The launch of SkyQ will come soon after the company reports its full-year results this week. A consensus of City analysts expects like-for-like sales to rise 5pc to £11.3bn and underlying earnings to increase 16pc to £1.4bn. Earnings per share are predicted to dip 4pc, however, as a result of new shares issued by Sky to pay for the acquisitions of Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland.
Moving the three Sky operations to the same set-top box technology is expected to play a major role in delivering the £200m in annual savings chief executive Jeremy Darroch said the double takeover would produce.
A Sky spokesman declined to comment.