BSkyB plans to bow digital TV

British Sky Broadcasting, the Rupert Murdoch-backed direct-to-home satellite web, is planning to launch the U.K.’s first near-video-on-demand service next year.

BSkyB’s programming head David Elstein outlined the plan March 21 at a confab organized by the Royal Television Society, the Dash for Digits, in which British TV’s top brass debated the implications of digital TV.

Next stage

Elstein said BSkyB’s step up into near-video-on-demand marked the next stage in the company’s development.

To make his point, BSkyB’s business development marketing manager, Ian West, showed delegates a U.S. TV commercial for DirectTv, the digital satellite web launched in the U.S. last year.

Elstein compared the coming of what would be Blighty’s first fully digitalized TV operation to the difference between terrestrial and satellite channels.

“At present I am in charge of nine channels,” Elstein said. “This time next year I expect to be looking after over 100.”

More control

The opening of a new digital market will enable viewers to have more control over what they watch. Elstein said the number of channels available to British viewers had increased from four to 25 since BSkyB, then Sky TV, was launched in 1989. “Now we are about to go from 25 to 125,” he added.

BSkyB, however, declined to give details of the scheme or indicate how much investment it requires.

One potential hurdle is persuading households to shell out 250 ($375) on a new set-top receiver capable of coping with digital broadcasts.

One possibility is that BSkyB may be forced to give them away.

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