BSkyB has come out on top after an Independent Television Commission ruling this week, allowing it to supply TVs containing software designed to carry exclusively its own digital services. The ruling means buying a TV will become similar to buying a computer. BSkyB, unlike ONDigital, will be able to produce these integrated TV sets without having to supply their technology to manufacturers of “open standard” sets. Cable and satellite operators will, however, have to make sure their TVs have the facility for a competitor’s set-top box to be plugged in. The open standard TV, which Philips and Sony unveiled in the past week, will only give access to the free-to-air terrestrial channels. If viewers buy one of these sets and wants to receive ONDigital’s channels, they can buy a plug-in module. Under the terms of its ITC licence, ONDigital must support this “open access” technology. But Sky has so far made no move to supply these plug-in modules. However, the Commission has decided in this week’s ruling that cable and satellite operators “will not be obliged to support plug-in modules of their proprietory technology”. The first Sky set-top boxes, made by Pace, are due to appear in the shops on October 1. They will not be compatible with OnDigital’s services. Pace’s marketing director Andrew Wallace says there is the potential to make TV set top boxes interoperable, although he doubts there will be a big demand. He says: “Sky will want set-top boxes on sale on October 1 and not the day before or the day after.” At least 200,000 boxes are expected on the market by the end of the year.
Media Analysis, page 16