Prime HD: What’s Wrong With This Picture (Part Two)?

You'll have to wait for the Blu-ray to see Life as you should know it

As the 2010 Commonwealth Games draw to a close, it’s worth reflecting on how Sky dropped the ball with its so-called “free-to-air” HD coverage on Prime.

This was a chance for the pay-TV operator to capitalise on what’s been a big year for Prime ratings-wise.

Not only has viewership been up year-on-year with viewers five-plus, but Prime’s also made sharp gains with its target audience, 25-54 year-olds.

It’s achieved this through stronger scheduling, adult-oriented programming and its belated availability on Freeview.

“I think Prime is doing well by providing a schedule which is consistently tailored for adult viewers and with a particular niche in UK programming,” Sky’s head of general entertainment and Prime, Karen Bieleski, last month told Onfilm.

“We have managed to secure some good product in recent times, which means we can create a more consistent schedule with fewer gaps – always a challenge for us! Being on Freeview has also helped boost our reach.”

So why would Sky then under-deliver on its promise of FTA HD coverage on Prime by restricting it to an HD feed that only My Sky HDi subscribers could view (channel 136)?

True, it didn’t cost subscribers extra to access but that’s not the same as what Sky’s 2010 Games press release trumpeted: “More than 16 hours of free-to-air live coverage each day on Prime in HD.”

The irony is turning Prime into a FTA HD platform for the games might have boosted their often lacklustre viewership while showcasing what the channel will offer once normal transmission resumes after the closing ceremony.

The difference between watching the same coverage on FTA Prime and Sky 136 was like night and day, less because of the HD quality and more because of Prime’s shoddy SD feed — or, as one contributor to a Geekzone forum sparked by this post calls it, “Crudvision”.

Delhi was an opportunity to draw more viewers to the network minnow while using the global competition to re-invent itself as an HD broadcaster when TVNZ is still running at only half-speed.

Some of Sky’s economic excuses for not offering more HD options, from market forces to bandwidth challenges, may be valid but not so its claim that Prime’s schedule doesn’t warrant an HD upgrade because not enough of its content can be licensed in 720p or 1080i.

A quick survey of this year’s highlights belies this. To wit: the Sharpe movies, Survivors, Life After People, Dr Who, Robin Hood, Top Gear, Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey, Poirot, Midsomer Murders, Miss Marple, Rivers, The Crowd Goes Wild, True Blood, Weeds, Mad Men, America’s Got Talent, Sea Patrol, Mythbusters, Late Show With David Letterman and the pending Being Human and Life.

Moreover, more local shows are being commissioned in HD and international licensing deals in HD are now the norm.

It’s rare for a pay-TV operator to have an FTA stake. Indeed, as well as going to the expense of acquiring Prime, Sky had to fend off  vehement protests from TVNZ and MediaWorks to the Commerce Commission to realise the deal.

So its unwillingness to exploit the potential of this controversial cross-ownership synergy, by creating an HD network that would challenge the supremacy of its rivals, is as mystifying as it is frustrating.

It’s bizarre that a company that pushes a groundbreaking PVR like My Sky HDi to lure subscribers should then limit its functionality by restricting HD access to a handful of channels — especially when Prime’s on a ratings roll and has some of the world’s best HD content at its disposal.

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2 Responses to “Prime HD: What’s Wrong With This Picture (Part Two)?”

  1. All Sky SD channels are in crudvision though. Not allowed at all in my house.

  2. Also it’s about time that Prime/Sky was forced to put their EPG on TiVo and stop with the monopolistic excuses that they use for not doing it..

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