Sky Digital

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Sky Digital is the brand name for British Sky Broadcasting's digital satellite television service, transmitted from SES Astra satellites located at 28.2E and Eutelsat's Eurobird 1 satellite at 28.5E.

BSkyB's analogue broadcasts ceased in 2001, so nowadays the service is sometimes marketed as just Sky.



Sky Digital evolved from Satellite Television UK (SATV), one of the earliest satellite television channels, set up by Brian Hayes, formerly controller of Thames Television. Originally it did not have a UK broadcasting licence, and was legally similar in that territory to the popular pirate radio stations of twenty years before. The channel broadcast a mixture of cheap Dutch-made programming (mainly from John de Mol Productions, the makers of Big Brother for Channel 4) and U.S. repeats from the OTS-2 Orbital Test Satellite to a pan-European audience.

In 1982 Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation acquired 80% of the company and renamed it Sky Channel. The channel became widely available in Ireland in 1987. It was relaunched as Sky Television on February 5 1989. It was one of the first DBS services in the world to become operational. The service had only four channels on its Astra satellite, which orbited at 19.2°E.

The Astra satellite was owned by a Luxembourg based consortium and controlled from there, but Sky's broadcasts originated in the UK and were subject to British regulation. Originally regulated by the Cable Authority, control passed to the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and finally to the Office of Communications (Ofcom).

Sky TV was relaunched in 1989. The impetus for the relaunch as Sky TV was the refusal of the ITC to allow Murdoch to participate in the British Satellite Broadcasting alliance. This created a battle to win customers in this new multichannel environment. In the end Sky's earlier launch and leasing of transponders on the Astra satellite network allowed it to overtake its rival. In contrast to Sky; BSB suffered from the burden of building and launching its own satellites, more ambitious and expensive technology and higher capital expenditure overall, such as the construction of its Marco Polo House HQ in London compared to Sky's industrial estate in Isleworth.

The failure of BSB in November 1990 led to a merger, although few programs acquired by BSB found their way to Sky One. The new company was called British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). The merger may have saved Sky financially; despite its popularity, Sky had very few major advertisers to begin with, and was also beginning to suffer from embarrassing breakdowns. Acquiring BSB's healthier advertising contracts and equipment apparently solved these problems.

Sky Digital

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Evolution of UK satellite television
Sky Digital was officially launched on 1 October 1998, although small-scale tests were carried out before then. For the first time, BSkyB used the newly-launched Astra 2 satellites, which have since come to broadcast exclusively to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. At this time the use of the Sky Digital brand made an important distinction between the new service and Sky's analogue services. Key selling points were the improvement in picture and sound quality, increased number of channels and an interactive service branded Open. Sky Digital competed with the ON Digital terrestrial offering.

New Astra satellites joined the position in 2000, and BSkyB increased the number of channels available to customers accordingly. This trend continued with the launch of Eurobird 1 in 2001.

In recent years the Sky Plus (Sky+) was launched. This PVR with internal hard drive allows viewers to pause live television and schedule programs to record in the future. Sky is planning to launch HDTV services in 2006.

Technical information

Sky Digital's broadcasts are in DVB-compliant MPEG-2, with the Sky Movies and Sky Box Office channels including optional Dolby Digital soundtracks for recent films, although these are only accessible with a Sky+ box. Interactive services and 7-day EPG use the proprietary OpenTV system, with set-top boxes including modems for a return path. Sky News, amongst other channels, provides a pseudo-video on demand interactive service by broadcasting looping video streams.

Provided a universal Ku band LNB (9.75/10.600GHz) is fitted at the end of the dish and pointed at the correct satellite constellation, most digital receivers will receive the free to air channels. Some broadcasts are free-to-air and unencrypted, some are encrypted but do not require a monthly subscription (known as free-to-view), some are encrypted and require a monthly subscription, and some are pay-per-view services. To view the encrypted content a Videoguard equipped receiver (all of which are dedicated to the Sky Digital service, and cannot be used to decrypt other services) needs to be used. Unofficial CAMs are now available to view the service, although use of them breaks your contract with Sky and invalidates your rights to use the card.


See also

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