BSkyB's Undercover Plan for Ad-Free TV

04 January 2005

BSkyB, the Murdoch-family controlled British satellite pay-TV broadcaster, has denied it intends to offer viewers a service that electronically blocks all commercials.

But, denials notwithstanding, it emerged over the holiday period that Sky has filed UK patents for technology which will do exactly that.

In April last year, the broadcaster was granted a series of patents entitled 'Skipping programme portions during replay', 'Video recorder catch up', and 'Switching to local video during commercial breaks'.

If and when this technology is introduced, its impact on other UK broadcasters could be disastrous, possibly triggering the intervention of competition regulators.

Although Sky's terrestrial rivals - ITV, Five and Channel 4 - currently draw the majority of their audiences from free-to-view sources, they are also watched increasingly on the BSkyB platform where the audience figures represent a substantial proportion of the companies' overall viewing totals.

Sky, on the other hand, derives 80% of its revenues from subscriptions and probably sees ad-free viewing as a major recruitment incentive. Should it decide to introduce the patented technology, it would have a devastating effect on other advertising-reliant broadcasters.

Says an unnamed senior executive at a major television channel: "The impact of this technology could be huge. It could change the shape of the television industry, but it could also affect the shape of the advertising industry."

According to the patent documents, an enabled set-top box could receive "signals defining a television programme and information signals indicative of predetermined portions of the programme, and these information signals may be decoded to interrupt the recording of programmes so as not to record adverts for example".

Sky, which currently claims over seven million subscribers, denied on Monday that introduction of the respective gizmos is imminent: "We have no plan to deploy the technology to allow advertising to be removed from recorded viewing," said a spokesman.

Seasoned Murdoch-watchers, however, doubt the patriarch and his scions would plough cash from the company's coffers into technology that will simply sit and gather dust.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff